Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Wellington's Wars

Wellington's Wars: The Making of a Military Genius

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Wellington's Wars
    Book Description:

    Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, lives on in popular memory as the "Invincible General," loved by his men, admired by his peers, formidable to his opponents. This incisive book revises such a portrait, offering an accurate-and controversial-new analysis of Wellington's remarkable military career. Unlike his nemesis Napoleon, Wellington was by no means a man of innate military talent, Huw J. Davies argues. Instead, the key to Wellington's military success was an exceptionally keen understanding of the relationship between politics and war.

    Drawing on extensive primary research, Davies discusses Wellington's military apprenticeship in India, where he learned through mistakes as well as successes how to plan campaigns, organize and use intelligence, and negotiate with allies. In India Wellington encountered the constant political machinations of indigenous powers, and it was there that he apprenticed in the crucial skill of balancing conflicting political priorities. In later campaigns and battles, including the Peninsular War and Waterloo, Wellington's genius for strategy, operations, and tactics emerged. For his success in the art of war, he came to rely on his art as a politician and tactician. This strikingly original book shows how Wellington made even unlikely victories possible-with a well-honed political brilliance that underpinned all of his military achievements.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16540-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-V)
  3. List of Illustrations and Maps
    (pp. VI-VII)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  5. Preface: A Military Genius?
    (pp. VIII-XVI)
  6. CHAPTER 1 An Introduction to War and Politics: Arthur Wellesley in Europe and India, 1794–1799
    (pp. 1-22)

    This was Arthur Wellesley’s first real taste of battle, and it was a firm indication of the bitterness of war for an eighteenth-century soldier. Wellesley, a twenty-nine-year-old lieutenant-colonel, was in command of the 33rd Regiment of Foot. He had been ordered to capture a small wooded copse, known in south India as a tope. The British needed the tope if they were to stand a chance of successfully preparing siege works against Seringapatam, the island fortress that was also the capital of Tipu Sultan’s Mysore. A British force numbering some 20,000 troops had arrived at the fortress two days earlier,...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Command Apprenticeship: The Campaign Against Dhoondiah Vagh, 1800
    (pp. 23-39)

    Throughout the spring and summer of 1800, Colonel Arthur Wellesley faced the greatest challenge of his life so far. The previous summer, an individual, going only by the name Dhoondiah Vagh, had begun organising and shaping the disparate and small-scale rebellions against the newly imposed authority of the British in Mysore. The officers and men of the British East India Company were used to sudden outbreaks of violence in isolated regions throughout India. For them, it was the natural reaction of the previously lawless inhabitants to the imposition of order and control. Small-scale rebellions were commonplace, and treated with a...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Learning the Wrong Lessons: War with the Marathas, 1801–1803
    (pp. 40-75)

    In the wake of the defeat of Dhoondiah Vagh, Wellesley’s political education continued apace. After the ringside view of the diplomatic prelude to war with Mysore, his role in the arrangement of political affairs at Seringapatam following Tipu Sultan’s death, and the detailed and multi-faceted negotiations preceding the counterinsurgency against Dhoondiah, over the next three years Wellesley would be thrust to the forefront of national diplomacy as his brother invested him with the authority to reach a settlement with the Marathas. In part, this demonstrates Mornington’s trust in his brother, in part, it represents the lack of trust Mornington had...

  9. CHAPTER 4 From India to the Peninsula: 1804–1808
    (pp. 76-98)

    Arthur Wellesley returned to England in September 1805 to find a country, indeed a world, transformed. A war had raged between France and Britain for more than a decade and, although Britain was on the brink of naval supremacy, Napoleonic France was likewise on the brink of continental supremacy. All things considered, Britain was losing, and the government had no idea what strategy to pursue, or how to implement one when a decision was reached. Wellesley was no bystander in this great strategic game. His hard-won reputation, combined with his brother’s fall from grace, led to his taking on a...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Search for a Strategy: The Defence of Portugal, 1809–1810
    (pp. 99-125)

    In March 1809, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley penned a memorandum explaining how Portugal could be defended, and how Britain might be able to draw Napoleonic France into a prolonged war of attrition.² The British government welcomed the plan as a viable escape route from a strategic dilemma which had paralysed decision-making since the beginning of the year: namely, whether or not to withdraw from Spain and Portugal altogether. This is all the more surprising considering the lack of detail and evidence that Wellesley presented. He advocated the restoration of the Portuguese Army, and the reinforcement of the British contingent in...

  11. CHAPTER 6 England’s Oldest Ally: The Liberation of Portugal, 1811
    (pp. 126-145)

    Arguably, Wellington’s greatest challenge – besides the French – was overcoming the constant difficulties posed by his Portuguese and Spanish allies. In late 1810, the Spaniards were aggrieved at the British withdrawal to Lisbon, but the more pressing problem was the deteriorating Anglo-Portuguese relations. Portugal was England’s oldest ally; the original treaty between the two nations dating back to 1373. Probably one of the moments of greatest tension between the two powers came in the winter of 1810–11. As soon as the Anglo-Portuguese Army was secure behind the Lines of Torres Vedras, Wellington faced political pressure from London and...

  12. CHAPTER 7 England’s Essential Ally: The Invasion of Spain, 1812
    (pp. 146-170)

    In 1812, Wellington was finally able to strike at the heart of French power in Spain, but the political problems with his Spanish allies were as time consuming as his military problems with the French. With the keys to Spain – Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz – in Wellington’s hands, he now had to decide which part of Spain to attack. His main concern was preventing the Army of Portugal under Marmont and the Army of the South under Soult from uniting. Marmont’s force, according to intelligence from intercepted dispatches, numbered 22,295 men at Salamanca, plus a further 20,000 dispersed around...

  13. CHAPTER 8 ‘I Will Beat Them Out, and with Great Ease’: The Liberation of Spain and the Invasion of France, 1813–1814
    (pp. 171-213)

    This remarkable exchange, recorded some decades later by the inimitable Harry Smith, provides one of the most personal accounts of Wellington’s thought processes, planning and decision-making. Wellington, Colonel Colborne, the commander of the 52nd Regiment, and Major Harry Smith were reconnoitring the battlefield of the Nivelle, while Wellington was planning a huge offensive that would see allied forces invade France for the first time since 1794. Shortly after, Smith continued, Wellington ‘was lying down, and began a very earnest conversation. General Alten, Kempt, Colborne, I, and other staff-officers were preparing to leave the Duke, when he says, “Oh, lie still.”...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Wellington’s Waterloo: The Battle for the Balance of Power in Europe, 1814–1815
    (pp. 214-247)

    The Battle of Waterloo was as much a great Prussian military victory as it was a great British military victory. The timely arrival of Blücher’s Prussian army on the left of Wellington’s Anglo-Dutch line undoubtedly sealed Napoleon’s fate. True, Wellington only fought at Waterloo because he had received a guarantee from Blücher that the Prussians would support him (although the chances of a successful retreat either on the evening of 17 June, or on the morning of the 18th, looked extremely slim). True, also, that Wellington’s army held out for a considerable period of time under a sustained and brutal...

  15. Conclusion: From Sepoy General to Military Statesman
    (pp. 248-254)

    Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In 1808, Britain found itself in dire straits. Facing military defeat, or the prospect of a devastatingly long war against Imperial France, this was Britain’s darkest hour. Worse, she had no hero on whom to rely. Nelson, a man eminently suitable for the role (embodying, as he did, a level of pomposity and vanity that only a British naval officer could attain), had fallen at the moment of his greatest victory.¹ Britain needed a hero, someone whom the mainstream political class and public could set atop a pedestal, if only for the liberal-leaning press...

  16. Abbreviations
    (pp. 255-256)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 257-277)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 278-293)
  19. Index
    (pp. 294-303)