WELLINGTON, Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of (1769–1852). A British general and statesman. He was the fourth son of Garret Wellesley, first Earl of Mornington, and was born in 1769, probably on the 29th of April, at Dublin, though both the date and the place are doubtful. His education was begun at a private school at Chelsea, whence he was sent to Eton, where he remained until the death of his father in 1781. He was an unpromising boy, and his mother, deciding that her "ugly boy Arthur" was "fit food for powder and nothing else," sent him to a military academy at Angers, France, for one year. He entered the army in 1787, and rose rapidly, receiving his commission as colonel in 1796. At first he saw but little of military service, but in 1794–95 he served with conspicuous gallantry in Holland against Pichegru. In 1796 Wellesley was ordered to India, and arrived at Calcutta with his regiment in the following year. His brother, the Earl of Mornington, afterward the Marquis of Wellesley, was named Governor-General, and landed at Calcutta in May, 1798. In August Wellesley was transferred to the Madras establishment. In 1799 the campaign of the English against Tippu Sahib, ruler of Mysore, was undertaken. Wellesley commanded the English left at Malavelly, but remained with the reserves when Seringapatam was stormed. Nevertheless he was named Governor of the conquered state, and until the beginning of 1803, save for brief intervals, was in control of both the military forces and the civil administration. In 1800 he pursued and defeated Dhundiah Waugh, a freebooter who had collected an army of 40,000 and was invading Mahratta territory. In the Mahratta War of 1803–05, Wellesley commanded the English forces in the south. After capturing the fortress of Ahmednagar, he unexpectedly found himself at Assaye in the presence of about 40,000 Mahratta troops with 100 guns, while he had only 4500 men and 17 guns, together with about 5000 auxiliary troops. He assumed the offensive, and by means of daring but hazardous movements won a complete victory (September 23). The battle of Argaum and the storming of Gawilgarh completed the discomfiture of the Mahratta chiefs. Wellesley received the thanks of Parliament and was made K.C.B. In 1805 he sailed for England.
During the three years from Wellesley's landing in England until his departure for Portugal he held various minor military offices. In 1806 he took his seat in Parliament for Rye. He was returned again in 1807; and in the same year was named Privy Councilor and Chief Secretary for Ireland, holding the latter office for two years. He distinguished himself in the expedition against Copenhagen in 1807, and in the following year was commissioned lieutenant general. In July, 1808, Wellesley sailed from Cork with the first English contingent destined to aid the Portuguese and Spanish in their revolt against Napoleon. It was intended that he should be fourth in command, the superior officers following with reënforcements. He landed at Mondego Bay and gained the victory of Vimeiro (August 21), which resulted in the Convention of Cintra, providing for the peaceful withdrawal of the French troops in English vessels from Lisbon. Wellesley was superseded on the day following the battle, and, finding his advice disregarded, retired to England. Both he and his two superiors were brought before a court of inquiry to justify the Convention of Cintra, which was unpopular in England. The English army, however, which had been under the command of Sir John Moore (q.v.), having been forced to embark at Corunna owing to the overwhelming numbers of the French, Wellesley was sent to Portugal with a new force, landing at Lisbon April 22, 1809.
Throughout the Peninsular campaigns Wellesley was hampered by the lack of supplies and men, and by the incompetence of his Spanish allies. He had, moreover, to cope with overwhelming numbers of the enemy. There were about 300,000 French soldiers in the Peninsula during the greater part of the time. The necessity of keeping down an insurgent population involved their wide dispersal, however, and gave Wellesley his opportunity to attack them in detail, relying on the badness of the Spanish roads to prevent their rapid concentration. On May 12, 1809, Wellesley drove Soult from Oporto, and on July 27–28 defeated an army nearly twice as large as his own under Victor at Talavera, not far from Madrid. But he had insufficient forces to maintain the position gained, and retreated to Portugal. For these victories he was made Baron Douro of Wellesley and Viscount Wellington of Talavera. Early in 1810 Napoleon sent 150,000 reënforcements into Spain, and formed an army of 80,000 under Masséna to drive the English into the sea. Wellington retired stubbornly before the superior forces of the enemy, devastating the country as he went, until he reached the lines of Torres Vedras (q.v.), barring the way to Lisbon. Masséna remained helpless before the English position from Oct. 12, 1810, to March 11, 1811, when scarcity of supplies forced him to retreat, stubbornly followed by Wellington. On April 5 Masséna recrossed the Portuguese frontier, having lost 30,000 men. This marks the turning point in the Peninsular War. Parliament no longer wavered in its support, and Napoleon was already withdrawing troops for the Russian campaign. Wellington captured the frontier fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo (Jan. 19, 1812) and Badajoz (April 6), and the way was open into Spain. On July 22 he utterly defeated a superior force under Marmont at Salamanca, and entered Madrid amid great enthusiasm. The French completely abandoned southern Spain and gathered in such numbers that Wellington, after besieging Burgos in vain, retreated to Portugal. For this campaign he was made Marquis of Wellington. The campaigns of 1813 and 1814 were fought with the fortunes of Napoleon in full decline. On June 21, 1813, Wellington defeated King Joseph at Vitoria. The fortresses of San Sebastián and Pamplona fell into his hands and the French forces under Soult were driven across the Pyrenees. In 1814 Wellington was already in possession of Bordeaux, and after an engagement with Soult in April he was on the point of entering Toulouse when news of peace put an end to hostilities. For these closing campaigns Wellington was made Marquis of Douro and Duke of Wellington, and received a grant of Ł400,000. In July, 1814, he was sent as Ambassador Extraordinary to France, but in February, 1815, was transferred to the Congress of Vienna. Upon the return of Napoleon from Elba he was summoned to command the forces of the English and allies in Belgium, in coöperation with a Prussian army under Blücher. The battles of Ligny (q.v.) and Quatre Bras (q.v.) were followed on June 18, 1815, by the great battle of Waterloo (q.v.), which finally shattered the power of Napoleon. From 1815 to 1818 Wellington commanded the army of occupation in France.
On his return to England he was made master general of the ordnance, with a seat in the cabinet. He represented England in the Congress of Verona (1822), where he advocated the policy of noninterference in Spanish affairs. In 1826 he went to Russia to negotiate a treaty providing for the partial independence of Greece. He was an extreme Tory, contending for the political influence of wealth and the supremacy of the landed aristocracy. He distrusted and disliked popular movements and was inclined to regard them as the result of artificial and unscrupulous agitation. He advocated the supremacy of the English settlers in Ireland, deprecated political concessions to the Irish people, and opposed Catholic emancipation and the reform of Parliament. He was a member of the cabinet until the retirement of Lord Liverpool, February, 1827, but he refused to serve during the short premiership of Canning. After the brief administration of Goderich, Wellington was Prime Minister from January, 1828, to November, 1830. His previous military career unfitted him in many ways for the office, and there was much dissension in the Ministry. In 1829 Wellington forced through Parliament the Catholic Emancipation Act, having become convinced that it was the only way to avert a war with the Irish nation. In 1830 he declined to consider proposals for the reform of parliamentary representation, and his Ministry was outvoted in the House of Commons. Wellington incurred intense unpopularity by his stubborn resistance to the Reform Bill in 1831–32. His house was mobbed and he was hooted in the streets. In the end he persuaded the Lords to give way in order to avert the creation of new peers. In 1834 he was elected chancellor of the University of Oxford. From December, 1834, to April, 1835, he was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under Peel. He took a less active part in subsequent political events, yet the prestige of his name was so great and his advice so prized that he was made a member of Peel's second cabinet without a portfolio (1841–46). In 1842 he was named commander in chief for life, a post which he had previously occupied for short periods. From 1845 to 1846 he was President of the Privy Council. In his last years he regained his popularity, and was the idol of the English nation. He died Sept. 14, 1852, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XXIII (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 456-458.