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Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 744
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The Duke of Wellington was not just Britain's greatest soldier, although his seismic struggles as leader of the Allied forces against Napoleon in the Peninsular War deservedly became the stuff of British national legend. Wellington was much more: a man of vision beyond purely military matters, a politically astute thinker, and a canny diplomat as well as lover, husband, and friend. Rory Muir's masterful new biography, the first of a two-volume set, is the fruit of a lifetime's research and discovery into Wellington and his times. The author brings Wellington into much sharper focus than ever before, addressing his masterstrokes and mistakes in equal measure.

    Muir looks at all aspects of Wellington's career, from his unpromising youth through his remarkable successes in India and his role as junior minister in charge of Ireland, to his controversial military campaigns. With dramatic descriptions of major battles and how they might have turned out differently, the author underscores the magnitude of Wellington's achievements. The biography is the first to address the major significance of Wellington's political connections and shrewdness, and to set his career within the wider history of British politics and the war against Napoleon. The volume also revises Wellington's reputation for being cold and aloof, showing instead a man of far more complex and interesting character.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19860-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  5. List of Maps
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  7. Prologue
    (pp. 1-2)

    It was a cold day a few weeks before Christmas 1808 and Sir Arthur Wellesley was walking through the grounds of Chelsea Hospital when he overheard a bystander say: ‘What business has he to wear his sword!’ The remark stung, but it did not come as a surprise. Ever since he had landed at Plymouth in early October he had been hissed at and abused by the crowd; newspapers of all political complexions had denounced him;The Timesrepeatedly questioned his honesty and his honour; and public meetings all across the country had called for an inquiry into his conduct,...

  8. Part I: Obscurity and Dependence

    • CHAPTER ONE An Unsettled Childhood (1769–88)
      (pp. 5-11)

      In later life the Duke of Wellington came to be regarded as the embodiment of aristocratic privilege, but this reflected his part in the politics of the 1830s rather than his own upbringing. As the younger son of an Irish peer he was clearly not among the under-privileged in eighteenth-century society, but even so his early life was marked more by obscurity and dependence than wealth and deference.

      This obscurity extends even to his date of birth. His family always maintained that he had been born on 1 May 1769, his father giving this date to the Office of Arms...

    • CHAPTER TWO Coming of Age in Ireland (1788–93)
      (pp. 12-26)

      Arthur Wesley spent eight years in Ireland from 1788 to 1796, dividing his time between regimental duty and serving as aide-de-camp to three successive Lords Lieutenant at Dublin Castle. In the early years the vice-regal court and the society that surrounded it were more attractive to the young man than garrison duty in the Irish provinces, but with the outbreak of war in 1793 and rapid promotion to command his own regiment, Wesley’s attention shifted. He also became a member of the Irish Parliament and gained direct experience of electoral politics and parliamentary debates. The time at Dublin Castle completed...

    • CHAPTER THREE Love and War (1792–96)
      (pp. 27-42)

      The years between 1792 and 1796 were the most painful and humiliating in Wesley’s long life, and they significantly influenced the development of his still-unformed character and the direction of his career. The troubles began in the most natural way; at the age of twenty-two he fell in love with a suitable young woman who warmly reciprocated his affections. Kitty Pakenham was the second child of Lord Longford, a staunch political ally of Lord Buckingham and the Irish government.¹ She was born in January 1772, making her a little less than three years younger than Arthur Wesley. We do not...

  9. Part II: India and Independence

    • CHAPTER FOUR Arrival in India (1796–98)
      (pp. 45-55)

      In February 1796 the British government decided to send substantial reinforcements to India and, as part of this plan, the destination of the 33rd was changed from the West to the East Indies – a decision that would shape the rest of Arthur Wesley’s life. The regiment embarked in April, but Wesley did not sail with them; he spent another two months at home recovering his health and settling his affairs. On 3 May he received a promotion to colonel in the army, while still retaining the rank of senior lieutenant-colonel and commanding officer of the 33rd; a general officer (Lord...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Mornington and the Indian Scene
      (pp. 56-64)

      Arthur Wesley spent eight years in India, the last seven of them with his brother as Governor-General. They were crucial years in which he developed his skills as a commander of men, a tactician, a strategic planner and a civil governor. He considered great questions of war and peace, grand strategy and diplomacy, finance and how Indian affairs would be perceived by public opinion at home. He discovered his brother’s strengths and weaknesses, and gained confidence in his own ability and judgement. He found his vocation and enjoyed great success – mixed with intense disappointment and some bitterness – and his mature...

    • CHAPTER SIX Seringapatam (1798–99)
      (pp. 65-87)

      Arthur Wesley helped to introduce his brother to the complexities of Indian affairs. After his visit to Madras in early 1798 he wrote a frank account of the problems Mornington was likely to have in dealing with its government, and of the personalities involved, which he either sent to Cape Town or left, sealed, for Mornington to read on his arrival.¹ Later, as we have seen, he argued successfully against an immediate war with Tipu, even doubting whether any war was likely to be worth the cost, given the difficulties facing Britain in Europe. Mornington may have felt that this...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Mysore Years (1799–1802)
      (pp. 88-105)

      Late on the afternoon of 5 May 1799, the day after the fall of Seringapatam, Tipu, last Sultan of Mysore, was laid to rest with full ceremonial honours, in the mausoleum constructed by his father. The heavens acknowledged the funeral with a tremendous thunderstorm, and although this was far from unusual for the time and the season of the year, those who saw it as an omen were not disproved by subsequent events; Tipu’s funeral marked the end of one era and the opening of another, both for the people of Mysore and in the life of Arthur Wellesley.¹


    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Restoration of the Peshwa (1802–03)
      (pp. 106-125)

      Towards the end of 1802 a crisis in the internal affairs of the Maratha Confederacy brought Arthur Wellesley’s quiet life at Seringapatam to an end. His remaining years in India were to be dominated by the intricate complexities of Maratha politics. He learnt to act on a large stage where the stakes were high, and where he had to rely upon his own judgement, not just on military questions, but also on issues of broader diplomatic and political consequence.

      The Maratha Confederation was the largest single power in India, but it was deeply divided, with five major and innumerable lesser...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Maratha War (1803)
      (pp. 126-149)

      The Peshwa had been restored and not a shot had been fired; so far Lord Wellesley’s policy – and his brother’s part in its execution – had been a complete success. But the position remained unstable, with the other Maratha princes showing little sign of accepting British pre-eminence. Holkar had withdrawn before the British advance and, after plundering the Hyderabad borderlands, was preparing to retreat further north towards his family’s traditional fiefdom. As Baji Rao refused to make any overture to him, it was not surprising that he remained unfriendly, but it did not seem likely that he would embark on active...

    • CHAPTER TEN Farewell to India (1804–05)
      (pp. 150-166)

      The first weeks of 1804 passed quietly as Sindia and the Raja of Berar came to terms with their defeat, and Arthur Wellesley waited to see if his brother, the Governor-General, would approve the peace treaties he had signed. The army marched south by easy stages; there was no reason to hurry, and it was important not to withdraw the British presence until it was quite clear that the peace would hold. The country was still very unsettled, with tens of thousands of leaderless men, ex-soldiers, pindaris and simple robbers preying on the peasants whose own plight was growing increasingly...

  10. Part III: War, Politics, Fame and Controversy

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Return to England (September 1805–March 1807)
      (pp. 169-188)

      Arthur Wellesley did not come home to a hero’s welcome.The Timesdid not even mention him in its report of the safe arrival of Admiral Rainier and the India fleet, although he had headed the complete list of passengers, which it had printed a month earlier.¹ His name was not unknown and the victory of Assaye had been celebrated in the press with considerable enthusiasm;² but that was eighteen months earlier, and in the interim Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor of France, Britain had been seriously threatened with invasion, a new war on the Continent had begun, and exaggerated...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Chief Secretary for Ireland (1807)
      (pp. 189-207)

      On 18 March 1807 George III effectively dismissed Lord Grenville’s government, and invited the members of Pitt’s last administration to form a new ministry. Their leader was the Duke of Portland, a politician of vast experience, but who was worn out and ill in 1807, and who proved little more than a figurehead. The real strength of his government would lie in a generation of young ministers, including Canning, Castlereagh, Hawkesbury (the future Lord Liverpool) and Perceval. Their task would not be easy, for the Whigs were outraged at losing office so soon, and Parliament would need to be convinced...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Copenhagen (July–September 1807)
      (pp. 208-220)

      On 1 June 1807, before Arthur Wellesley left Dublin for London, he received a letter from Benjamin Sydenham, who remained one of Lord Wellesley’s confidants. Sydenham wrote to warn Sir Arthur that a large military expedition was being prepared. Lord Wellesley had already been to see Castlereagh to remind him of Sir Arthur’s claims to be employed and Castlereagh had replied ‘that the expedition was so formed that even if Sir Arthur were on the staff in England, it would not fall to his turn to be employed; but that if Sir Arthur was extremely anxious on the subject they...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Dublin and Westminster (October 1807–July 1808)
      (pp. 221-233)

      Sir Arthur Wellesley returned to Dublin and his family on Monday 12 October 1807. He had been married for eighteen months; his son, Arthur Richard, was now eight months old, and Kitty was well advanced in her second pregnancy although the new baby was not due until early 1808. It is difficult to judge the state of the marriage at this time; none of Kitty’s letters have survived and Arthur’s are mostly short and dry, giving little hint of his feelings except, perhaps, in their lack of demonstrative affection. This may not mean much, for even so devoted a husband...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Vimeiro and Cintra (July–September 1808)
      (pp. 234-263)

      While the last-minute preparations for the expedition were being made, the regimental officers amused themselves in Cork with boating parties and dances. The news of the Spanish uprising caused great excitement, and Wellesley’s appointment to command the expedition was met with approval; William Gomm, a young staff officer, was ‘very glad’ of it, and Captain William Warre told his mother: ‘Sir A.W. is a very good officer, and much esteemed, and I trust we have neither a Whitelocke or Gower [the generals blamed for the defeat at Buenos Aires] amongst us.’¹ Still, not everyone was convinced, and William Clinton, the...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN The Cintra Inquiry (September–December 1808)
      (pp. 264-282)

      Arthur Wellesley landed at Plymouth on 4 October to find the whole country baying for his blood. According to a travelling companion ‘hissings and hootings greeted him at every town and village . . . through which he had to pass on his way to the metropolis’.¹ This popular anger reflected the intense disappointment of shattered hopes and confident expectations, which had overwhelmed the public only a few weeks before. In the summer and autumn of 1808 the British public had become more engrossed in news of the war than at any time since the death of Nelson three years...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Politics, Scandal and Wellesley’s Return to Portugal (January–April 1809)
      (pp. 283-298)

      At the beginning of 1809, the allied cause in the Peninsula was in disarray. Napoleon had crushed the Spanish armies with contemptuous ease, occupied Madrid without significant popular resistance, and then turned upon Sir John Moore and forced the British army to embark on its epic retreat to Coruña and the safety of its ships. News of the battle of Coruña and Moore’s death reached London a few days after the government issued its response to the Cintra Inquiry’s report. With the British army driven from Spain, Arthur Wellesley had to accept that there was no immediate prospect of active...

  11. Part IV: Adversity and Triumph in the Peninsula

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Oporto (April–May 1809)
      (pp. 301-317)

      Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley arrived in Lisbon on 22 April 1809. He was greeted with rejoicing and the city was illuminated for three successive nights in his honour. Cintra had done little to damage Wellesley’s reputation in Portugal. The shops were full of prints of Vimeiro, and the Portuguese government had privately asked for Wellesley’s return months earlier when requesting the loan of a general to reform their army.¹ The news of Wellesley’s appointment was greeted with equal delight in the British army. There was some sympathy for Cradock, but he had never gained the confidence of the officers or...

    • CHAPTER NINETEEN Talavera (June–August 1809)
      (pp. 318-344)

      Wellesley’s campaign in Spain in the summer of 1809 was overshadowed by the outbreak of war in central Europe. The Austrians had been deeply alarmed by Napoleon’s deposition of the Spanish Bourbons, and in the spring of 1809 – just two weeks before Wellesley arrived back in Portugal – they attacked the French in southern Germany. The Archduke Charles gained some initial successes, but lacked the confidence to exploit them, and a series of hard-fought actions turned the tide in favour of the French. Napoleon entered Vienna on 13 May, but the Austrian army was unbroken and they continued the war. A...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY Misery on the Guadiana (August–December 1809)
      (pp. 345-357)

      The months following Talavera saw the British army sink to one of its lowest points of the entire Peninsular War, as bad as the miseries of Moore’s march to Coruña earlier in the year and the retreat from Burgos in late 1812. In the first month the troops suffered severely from a shortage of food and long marches on bad roads through desolate country. From early September they were much better supplied, and were able to rest in relatively comfortable cantonments in the valley of the River Guadiana near Badajoz, but disease ran through their ranks sending one-third of the...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Preparing for the Storm (December 1809–June 1810)
      (pp. 358-376)

      After defeating Austria Napoleon turned his attention to the Peninsula, intending to crush the Spanish resistance and force Wellington to evacuate his army and abandon Portugal. On 7 October 1809 he issued orders to prepare 100,000 reinforcements to join his armies in Spain, a figure that subsequently rose to almost 140,000, bringing the total French force to about 350,000 men. He initially planned to lead these armies in person, although he gave up the idea when he divorced Josephine in December and married the Austrian Archduchess Marie Louise in the following April. Few British observers saw much hope of riding...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO Busaco (July–September 1810)
      (pp. 377-393)

      Napoleon thought that the conquest of Portugal would help end the tiresome war in the Peninsula, which had already cost him far too many men and far too much money. He did not expect it to be difficult. His intelligence, largely gathered from reports in English newspapers, suggested that Wellington had an army of fewer than 30,000 British troops, and was only waiting for the French to advance to give him a decent pretext to evacuate the country. The same newspaper stories, commonly based on uncensored letters from British officers in Portugal, dismissed the Portuguese army as a negligible force...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE Torres Vedras (October 1810–February 1811)
      (pp. 394-406)

      Wellington waited until the afternoon of 28 September, the day after the battle of Busaco and then, when it was clear that the French were committed to the long march by Boialvo and Sardão, he gave the order for his army to withdraw. He did not again offer battle or attempt to delay the French advance until he reached the Lines of Torres Vedras, but the retreat was well managed, so that the troops retained the buoyant confidence they had gained at Busaco. The march was almost completed before the rains began at the beginning of the second week of...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR The Pursuit of Masséna (February–April 1811)
      (pp. 407-415)

      On 1 March 1811 Masséna issued carefully prepared orders for the army’s retreat, although the troops holding the outposts facing the allies did not move until the night of 5 March. The first stage of the retreat was well organised and conducted, and although Wellington detected many signs that some movement was imminent, he was unsure whether the French were intending a desperate attack, an attempt to cross the Tagus, or a withdrawal.¹ It was not until five o’clock in the morning on 6 March that Wellington learnt that the French had marched in the night, leaving straw-filled dummies to...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE Fuentes de Oñoro (April–June 1811)
      (pp. 416-435)

      On 18 April 1811 Lieutenant-General Viscount Wellington rode into the sleepy provincial town of Nisa in eastern Portugal at the head of his staff. He was less than a fortnight short of his forty-second birthday, and he had spent the night before at Castello Branco some thirty-one miles to the north, on the other side the Tagus. It was a fair ride on mountain roads, and before he went to bed that night he would write nine letters, five of them to the Secretary of State, ranging from a broad survey of the strategic situation in the Peninsula to forwarding...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX Ciudad Rodrigo (July 1811–January 1812)
      (pp. 436-445)

      After the intense activity of the spring and early summer, the rest of 1811 proved an anticlimax for the allied army in the Peninsula. Wellington accepted that a fresh attack on Badajoz would simply bring Soult and Marmont together for its relief, and instead turned his attention to Ciudad Rodrigo, establishing a blockade of the fortress on 10 August. However, Marmont combined with Dorsenne (who had replaced Bessières in command of the Army of the North) to advance to its relief in late September with 58,000 men. Wellington had left Hill with a substantial force near Elvas to guard the...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN Badajoz (February–April 1812)
      (pp. 446-457)

      Wellington’s success at Ciudad Rodrigo took Marmont completely by surprise. He was dining with Dorsenne at Valladolid on the evening of 14 January when he learnt that the allies had crossed the Agueda and broken ground before the fortress. The two French generals at once set about collecting their forces, and were confident that they would be able to relieve the beleaguered garrison in early February. But it was only a week later, before Marmont had even reached Salamanca, that he was told the fortress had fallen. Wellington had seized the initiative and opened the northern route into Spain, and...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT Salamanca (April–July 1812)
      (pp. 458-477)

      Around five o’clock on the afternoon of 11 May 1812 the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, arrived at the Houses of Parliament to take part in the evening’s debate on the Orders-in-Council. He left his cloak and stick with an attendant and climbed the stairs to the lobby of the old House of Commons where a tall, large-boned stranger, John Bellingham, pressed a pistol to his chest and shot him through the heart. Perceval collapsed with the cry, ‘I am murdered, murdered’, gave two heavy groans and died. Bellingham quietly sat on a bench by the wall, making no attempt to...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE Madrid and Burgos (July–November 1812)
      (pp. 478-492)

      When Wellington awoke on 23 July, the morning after Salamanca, it was to a bright hopeful new world. Most of the problems that had preoccupied him twenty-four hours before had disappeared, and in their place was a grand vista of almost limitless potential. Instead of an ignominious retreat back to the Portuguese frontier he had the freedom to choose the line on which he would advance, confident in the knowledge that there was not a French army within 200 miles that would dare to oppose him. But it was important not to become intoxicated by success, for the underlying balance...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY Life at Headquarters
      (pp. 493-516)

      Headquarters of the army remained at Freneda from 24 November 1812 until 22 May 1813, although Wellington himself was absent for six weeks from mid-December to late January visiting Cadiz and Lisbon for talks with the Spanish and Portuguese governments. It was not unusual for the army to spend long periods in winter quarters, nor for headquarters to remain in one place for months at a time, but it is striking that Wellington chose to keep his station so near the front even when there was no likelihood of active operations. Another commander might have preferred to base himself further...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE Vitoria (December 1812–June 1813)
      (pp. 517-536)

      The disappointment felt in the allied camp after the retreat from Burgos was soon allayed by news of the failure of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the almost complete destruction of his army. This meant, at the very least, that there would be no flood of French reinforcements crossing the Pyrenees to recover the provinces lost in 1812, and it might have much more sweeping repercussions. Napoleon might have been wise to cut his losses in Spain completely, but he was unwilling to make such an admission of weakness (which would certainly have emboldened his enemies and alarmed his allies),...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO The Pyrenees (July–September 1813)
      (pp. 537-552)

      Having swept from the frontier of Portugal to the Pyrenees in a few short weeks, Wellington needed to consolidate his gains to ensure that there would be no repeat of the dashed hopes and miserable retreats that had put an end to his previous offensives in 1809 and 1812. The strategic environment in 1813 was much more favourable than in those years; the allied army was stronger and the French weaker, while Napoleon was threatened by a powerful coalition in central Europe, which would probably prevent him sending reinforcements south. Nonetheless Wellington’s success in driving the French out of most...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE Crossing the Frontier (September–December 1813)
      (pp. 553-565)

      The fall of San Sebastian and the defeat of the French army at San Marcial and Vera opened the road into France. Autumn had scarcely begun and Wellington’s troops were fresh and well supplied. Officers in the army talked of a grand offensive, advancing into France as far as Bordeaux or Toulouse before winter forced the army into cantonments – hopes which were a fair reflection of the actual balance of forces in the Pyrenees.¹ But Wellington was most reluctant to contemplate a significant invasion of France. His correspondence reveals several explanations for this restraint. He was worried that his army...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR Toulouse and the End of the War (January–April 1814)
      (pp. 566-589)

      Napoleon returned to Paris on 9 November 1813, three weeks after his disastrous defeat at Leipzig. A day later Wellington was to launch his attack on Soult’s positions around the Nivelle but Napoleon’s attention was elsewhere; for he knew that the critical point in the war would be in north-eastern, not south-western, France. Little remained of the army he had led in Germany, but he did not despair; if the allies waited until the spring to cross the Rhine he would have five or six months to turn the reluctant conscripts who were already being rounded up across France into...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 590-591)

    Early on the morning of 23 June 1814 His Majesty’s sloopRosariosailed into Dover Roads and fired a salute. Within minutes the yards of all the ships in the harbour were manned and their guns returned the salute. As Wellington came ashore the batteries of Dover Castle added their voice to the clamour, while on the pier heads an eager crowd gave three cheers. Despite the early hour more than 5,000 people were assembled to welcome the hero home, with more arriving every minute, and no sooner had he set foot on shore than he was lifted high and...

  13. Online Commentary
    (pp. 592-593)
  14. Digest and Chronology of Wellington’s Life and Career to 1814
    (pp. 594-598)
  15. Endnotes
    (pp. 599-674)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 675-711)
  17. Index
    (pp. 712-728)