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The Personal Aspect of Arthur, 1st Duke of Wellington


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Sometimes it's easy with the real military "greats" to forget that you're reading about a real, normal person. So, I thought it would be neat to find a few things that survive from the Duke of Wellington that give a picture of his normal life when not fighting at the Battle of Waterloo.


His Home

To begin with, his renowned home, Apsley House, is now part of the English Heritage association and a full historical sight and museum.




This house was built between 1771-1778 for the 1st Baron Apsley (then Lord Chacellor), at the formal entrance to Hyde Park -- originally having an address of "Number 1, London". [Note: The address is now 149 Picadilly.] While this original red brick building was not the grand house surviving, the structure still survives beneath the stones and extensions of the larger, later house. The new Duke of Wellington purchased the house from his older brother, after Parliament voted to gift him £700,000 for the building of his own "Waterloo Palace". Instead, the Duke paid £40,000 for Apsley House (at the same time helping his brother out of financial troubles). 


His Daguerreotype

While everyone tends to show the famous and colorful portraits of the Duke, there is actually an amazing daguerreotype photograph taken in 1844 (I think the date was 01 May 1844).




There's nothing like a photo to make someone seem real. It's fascinating to think of that older gent being the same dashing hero always shown in his prime at Waterloo.


His Frock Coat and Overalls

And if you're interested in the clothing of the day (these were definitely his "civvies"), the National Army Museum in Chelsea actually owns the coat and pants worn by the Duke in the portrait showing Wellington with his secretary, Colonel Gurwood. This was painted in the 1840s by artist Andrew Morton and shows the men (Gurwood standing and Wellington seated) in the library at Apsley House. Here is the portrait (now on display as part of The Wallace Collection in London):




And here are some pictures from the museum's collection showing the actual clothing:








You have to wonder what the Duke would have thought about his suit being displayed in state-of-the-art conditions . . . moth hole and all! He probably wore this a number of times and never dreamed of it being a permanent display in one of the nation's large museums.


If anyone else has more to share about this great British hero, please reply!

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More in this line -- here is a truly fascinating memory of the great Duke by Robert Charles Winthrop, the renowned American and Speaker of the House of Representatives. This was written many years later, recounting Winthrop's visit to London in April 1847.


Reminiscences of Foreign Travel: A Fragment of Autobiography by Robert Charles Winthrop (pub. 1894, pages 13-16)

          Before I left London, I had not only dined in company with him [Arthur, Duke of Wellington] at Lord Ashburton's, and conversed with him for some minutes at the Queen's Ball, but had spent an hour at Apsley House, where he had kindly made an appointment with a lady whose great benefactions subsequently led the Queen to adorn the peerage with her name, to receive her, with one other friend and myself, and show us the Waterloo Gallery in person.

          The Duke received Miss Burdett-Coutts at the carriage door; and under his lead we passed up the grand staircase, with Canova's heroic statue of Napoleon at its foot, and proceeded through the rooms. We had even a glimpse of the one with the little iron bedstead on which the Duke habitually slept, -- giving as a reason why he had adopted a bed not big enough for any one to turn himself on, that when a man begins to turn at all in bed, it is time for him to turn out.

          On some of the walls we saw several portraits of Napoleon at different stages of his career, but I think not one of the Duke himself. A new picture had recently been sent to him by I forget what artist, and it was still lying on the floor. "That's his idea," said the Duke, "of the battle of Waterloo." And then pointing to a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, I believe, he said: "You see that portrait which has been injured on the corner. It is the first Lady Lyndhurst, who was very handsome. The mob once threw stones at me through the windows, but they only hurt the pictures." And then he showed us the iron shutters which he had put up for protecting himself and his pictures in future, and which he never would allow to be removed as long as he lived. He had a charming arrangement, too, of sliding mirrors over the windows of his grand drawing-room, so as to render it more brilliant at night; but his aged arm not being quite equal to this effort, he appealed to me to aid him in exhibiting this contrivance to the ladies. After pointing out to us several large paintings, he quietly remarked, "They are only copies, however; I returned the originals to the Spanish government. Here is one small original, though, which is very charming," said he. "Joseph Bonaparte carried it about with him in his carriage at Vittoria, and I had the good fortune to find it there after he had fled." And then he showed us a recent bust of his beautiful daughter-in-law, the Marchioness of Douro (now Duchess Dowager of Wellington), and pointed out with a pencil, which I feared would leave its mark upon the marble, exactly where it failed to do full justice to the original. Still again, he showed us the equestrian statuettes of Napoleon and himself in sliver by Count d'Orsay, and commented critically on their execution. Finally, he took us into his sanctum, -- his working-room, -- where his despatch boxes and his books were piled up in every direction. The carpenters were engaged at the very moment in putting up new fixtures. "You see," said he, "I am obliged to have more shelves for all these huge Parliamentary Reports. They will soon outfolio use out of our houses and homes." I had never heard that most significant phrase before; I could not find it in any dictionary. It may have been used then for the first time; at any rate, it came naturally and characteristically from one who had known so well how to outflank his enemies.

          Before leaving the room, the Duke said to Miss Burdett-Coutts, "What are you going to do with your opera-box this evening?" She replied that it would be entirely at his service, as she was going into the country. "Then write me an order for it at my desk, if you please." It was while she was writing this order, that relying on the Duke's being a little deaf, I whispered to her that if I were not afraid of annoying him I would ask the Duke to write his name for me, while she was writing her name for him. "What's that you were saying?" he exclaimed; and on my confession, he added, "With all my heart," and proceeded to write "Wellington" for me on a scrap of paper, dated May 29, 1847.

          Five years later the Duke died, and England was mourning him almost at the same moment at which we were mourning for Webster.


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And here is a picture of the Waterloo Gallery at Apsley House (as seen today):



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  • 2 weeks later...

Ran across this very nice profile portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Not quite as impressive as the famous poses, but it looks quite real.



And even the Victorians realized the fun in souvenirs. Here's a papier mache box that was made with Wellington's portrait on the top!


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And a fun piece . . . being the engraving of the famed Waterloo Banquet held at Wellington's Apsley House. And this particular copy was part of Lord Raglan's personal collection.




And here's the painting of this scene, which shows the uniforms in their bright tones:



And you can still see that room very much as it was at the time of the banquet . . .





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I was thinking about another very personal aspect of the Duke -- his favorite horse, Copenhagen. Found some very neat stuff while looking him up.

Copenhagen was a Thoroughbred and Arabian mix born in 1808. He stood 15 hands high and had a rather small head. He was purchased for the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular Campaign in 1813, becoming the Duke's favorite steed and surviving many battles. His most famous deed was carrying the Duke through the entire Battle of Waterloo -- for 16 or 17 hours straight (accounts seem to vary) without injury. The following portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence shows Wellington with his special mount:



In his later years, Copenhagen was retired to Wellington's Stratfield Saye House where he lived his life out in happiness. He was very sociable, and being such a famous fellow was visited by many. Wearing jewelry made from his mane and/or tail hair was apparently very popular with many women in England -- and if you were a gent, why you saved a lock of the horse's mane in your private papers. At least, that's what one Waterloo Veteran did! This was sold at auction in 2015:



So far, I haven't been able to find pictures of any jewelry made with Copenhagen's hair, but maybe some will turn up!

Copenhagen lived to be twenty-eight years old, dying on 12 Feb 1836. He was buried with full military honors in the Strayfield Saye House "Ice House paddock". There is now a gravestone (placed over Copenhagen's grave by Wellington's son, Arthur), though this area is on private property and not open to the public now. The inscription reads:

Here Lies
The Charger ridden by
The Duke of Wellington
The entire day at the
Battle of Waterloo.
Born 1808. Died 1836.


God's humbler instrument though meaner clay
Should share the glory of that glorious day.


You can leave a virtual flower on his FindaGrave.com memorial: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/8584436/copenhagen




And to finish off -- a few interesting tidbits from Illustrated London News of 09 Oct 1852 (page 308):

In the battles of Vittoria and Waterloo the Duke, we believe used no other horse; and in the latter, it is said, was eighteen hours on his back, but Copenhagen gave little signs of being beaten, for on his rider patting him on the quarter as he dismounted after the battle, the game little horse struck out as playfully as if he had only had an hour's canter in the park. For endurance of fatigue, indeed, he was more than usually remarkable; and for the duty he had to fulfil as proportionately valuable. However hard the day, Copenhagen never refused his corn, though he ate it after a very unusual manner with horses, lying down at full length on his couch.


For many years Copenhagen was one of the "sights" at Stratfield-say. It was not, though, the stranger alone who asked for the famous old horse; the Duke himself rarely omitted to visit him, and the ladies of the family made him, as he deserved to be, an especial pet. And it would have been extraordinary had they not; for, in addition to his well-earned renown, Copenhagen had one of the surest and best characteristics of true courage -- an extremely good and docile temper.


Copenhagen, in colour a full rich chestnut, stood scarcely more than fifteen hands high; he possessed, however, very great muscular power, and had nearly all the good useful "points" to be looked for. His general appearance rather favoured the Arab cross in his pedigree, which his lasting qualities tended yet more to confirm. From his size he was not much adapted for crossing a country, though the Duke is said to have occasionally ridden him with hounds.


Miss Mitford, in her very interesting "Country Stories," relates some amusing particulars of Copenhagen . . . "After his return [from Waterloo and the war] the paddock was assigned to him, in which he passed the rest of his life in the most perfect comfort that can be imagined; fed twice a day (latterly upon oats broken for him), with a comfortable stable to retire to, and a rich pasture in which to range. The late amiable Duchess used regularly to feed him with bread, and this kindness had given him the habit (especially after her death) of approaching every lady with the most confiding familiarity. He had been a fine animal; but latterly he exhibited an interesting specimen of natural decay, in a state as nearly that of nature as can well be found in a civilized country. He had lost an eye from age, and had become lean and feeble, and, in the manner in which he approached even a casual visitor, there was much of the demand of sympathy, the appeal to human kindness, which one has so often observed from a very old dog towards his master. Poor Copenhagen . . . when alive, furnished so many bequests from his mane and tail to enthusiastic young ladies, who had his hair set in brooches and rings . . ."


The above was accompanied by an engraving of the grave as seen in 1852:


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The Duke of Wellington monument in Somerset, the tallest 3 sided obelisk in the world, is to open to the public again after repairs and restorations. Paid for by public subscription, building began in 1817 to commemerate Wellington's victory at Waterloo and was completed, in a modified form, in 1854. It is now owned by the National Trust and had been closed to the public in 2007 due to it's being in need of repair and safety concerns.


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Just read up about the Wellington monument on Wikipedia and it mentions that the three sided shape to the obelisk is based on the type of bayonet used by the British troops at Waterloo.

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That's really interesting about the Wellington Monument. I enjoyed looking it up and reading about the cannons that were meant to be mounted there -- some stored for years and then sunk, one sold off for £64 to cover the cost of storage on the rest, some actually mounted at memorial and taken up during WWII for the scrap metal drive. Nice that one finally made it to the monument.


And here's another fun piece relating to the Duke:


The Royal Collection Trust has a locket containing Wellington's hair, apparently cut at the time of his death. The inscription on the locket is dated two days after Wellington's funeral.









And if anyone is looking to own their own small mourning locket (measuring 3/4") with some of the Duke's hair, you can get one on eBay right now for $2,625.00:







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My favourite story about Wellington is that after he returned from Portugal he happened to meet Nelson in London. Nelson, who was already famous for his exploits, was somewhat stand offish at first, not knowing who this Army officer was. However, after leaving the room Nelson was informed who the Army officer was and returned to have a very different conversation with Wellington, seeing him as an equal. Wellington later said the second half of the meeting was one of the best conversations he had ever had. Nelson was to die at Trafalgar within the year. Whilst it may be an anecdote I like to think it happened.

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@numbersix I love the story you posted in the previous post -- so, I thought I'd look it up and see what I could find. Here is the original version. It was written in the diaries/notes of John Wilson Croker in 1834. He had a conversation with the Duke of Wellington and recorded it as follows:


Walmer, October 1st, 1834. -- We were talking of Lord Nelson, and some instances were mentioned of the egotism and vanity that derogated from his character. "Why," said the Duke, "I am not surprised at such instances, for Lord Nelson was, in different circumstances, two quite different men, as I myself can vouch, though I only saw him once in my life, and for, perhaps, an hour. It was soon after I returned from India. I went to the Colonial Office in Downing Street, and there I was shown into the little waiting-room on the right hand, where I found, also waiting to see the Secretary of State, a gentleman, whom from his likeness to his pictures and the loss of an arm, I immediately recognised as Lord Nelson. He could not know who I was, but he entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side and all about himself, and in, really, a style so vain and so silly as to surprise and almost disgust me. I suppose something that I happened to say may have made him guess that I was somebody, and he went out of the room for a moment, I have no doubt to ask the office-keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man, both in manner and matter. All that I had thought a charlatan style had vanished, and he talked of the state of this country and of the aspect and probabilities of affairs on the Continent with a good sense, and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad, that surprised me equally and more agreeably than the first part of our interview had done; in fact, he talked like an officer and a statesman. The Secretary of State kept us long waiting, and certainly, for the last half or three-quarters of an hour, I don't know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. Now, if the Secretary of State had been punctual, and admitted Lord Nelson in the first quarter of an hour, I should have had the same impression of a light and trivial character that other people have had, but luckily I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man; but certainly a more sudden and complete metamorphosis I never saw.


A portrait of their meeting was made after Nelson's death, though the original painting has been untraced for many years. There were a lot of engravings and copies, though, of which this is one:


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I was not sure if it was true or not so it's grand to know there is a record of it. India not Portugal which probably makes more sense too; thank you very much for sourcing it. Any errors are my own, as I am wont to say.

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Just realized that "Wellies" (everyone's favorite gardening boots) are called after the Iron Duke! So, I thought this thread needed a bit about that.


Wellington Boots came about at the beginning of the 19th century when the Duke (at the time he was Viscount Wellington) requested Mr. George Hoby, a London shoemaker, to make a pair of boots that was easier to wear with the "modern" tight-fitting trousers. Mr. Hoby made a pair of boots that was shorter than the standard (and common) "Hessians" -- tall boots with a v-shape in the front that was decorated with a tassel. Oh, and he also removed the tassel! By 1813, the style was becoming popular, thanks to Wellington's fame, and the new style of military boots were termed "Wellingtons". There is still a pair of his boots on display at Walmer Castle, as seen in this photo:



This style remained quite fashionable until the Duke's death, after which they were replaced by the ankle-style boots -- though the tall Wellingtons were still used by officers through WWI. 


But it wasn't until the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh decided to produce the UK's first gum boots in 1856. While popularity didn't spread right away, the new work boots soon took on the name of "Wellies". Then, in WWI, the company produces masses of the rubber Wellies as part of the regular soldier's Winter kit. When the war ended, the Wellies became standard gear on farms and in gardens . . . so that even today, the Iron Duke is a household word -- though you have to wonder how many people still realize whose name they're using when referring to their gum boots.

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After doing that research yesterday about Wellington boots, Sis wanted me to look up the truth (or not) about the Duke of Wellington enjoying the yoyo. 

Apparently, there is one recollection linking the Duke with this beloved toy -- published in "Personal Reminiscences" by Thomas Moore and William Jerdan, published in 1875. It was Thomas Moore (1779-1852), the renowned Irish poet who recalled the following (giving so many future film makers, writers, etc., the chance to portrait the Iron Duke with a yoyo):


The commencement of my career in rhyming was so very early as to be almost beyond the reach of memory. But the first instance I can recall of any attempt of mine at regular versicles was on a subject which oddly enables me to give the date with tolerable accuracy; the theme of my muse on this occasion having been a certain toy very fashionable about the year 1789 or 1790, called in French a "bandalore," and in English a "quiz." To such a ridiculous degree did the fancy for this toy pervade at that time all ranks and ages, that in the public gardens and in the streets numbers of persons, of both sexes, were playing it up and down as they walked along; or, as my own very young doggerel described it, -- 

"The ladies too, when in the streets, or walking in the Green,

Went quizzing on, to show their shapes and graceful mien."

I have been enables to mark more certainly the date of this toy's reign from a circumstance mentioned to me by Lord Plunket concerning the Duke of Wellington, who, at the time I am speaking of, was one of the aides-de-camp of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and in the year 1790, according to Lord Plunket's account, must have been a member of the Irish House of Commons. "I remember," said Lord Plunket, "being on a committee with him; and, it is remarkable enough, Lord Edward Fitzgerald was also one of the members of it. The Duke (then Captain Wellesley) was, I recollect, playing with one of those toys called quizzes, the whole time of the sitting of the committee." This trait of the Duke coincides perfectly with all that I have ever heard about this great man's apparent frivolity at that period of his life. Luttrell, indeed, who is about two years older than the Duke, and who lived on terms of intimacy with all the Castle men of those days, has the courage to own, in the face of all the Duke's present glory, that often, in speculating on the future fortunes of the young men with whom he lived, he has said to himself, in looking at Wellesley's vacant face, "Well, let who will get on in this world, you certainly will not." So little promise did there appear at that time of even the most ordinary success in life, in the man who has since accumulated around his name such great and lasting glory."


Of course, there are no images of Wellington with his "quiz", but this is a 1791 illustration showing a fashionable lady with her own!


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  • 1 month later...

Here's a fun addition after having not added to this thread for a bit. A small miniature portrait that was passed down through the family to the estate of the 5th Baron Raglan. Artist's name is not known, and while this doesn't appear to be the greatest likeness ever -- the colors on the uniform are quite brilliant and must give a nice idea of what that looked like in real life.



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  • 4 months later...

Coming back to the personal aspect of the Duke of Wellington, I can't think of anything better than a packet of his hair (obviously from his later years).

This amazing packet of hair was brought in and filmed on Antiques Roadshow back on 22 Dec 2002 at Mansion House in London (Season 25, Episode 16). There were two paper packets and a card from the gent who had kept the hair. 




The packet containing the Duke's hair was quite full and valued at £500 in 2002. That seems to me quite a bargain!



But the packet containing a much smaller (though quite substantial when compared to the small amounts preserved in jewelry) amount of Lord Nelson's hair was valued at £5,000! Of course, the Duke of Wellington lived much longer and had many more hair cuts, but I can't help feeling that I'd rather have the first packet if asked to choose. 


2041664771_WellingtonsHairAR03.jpg.1b14e9790bfc8057ce28ab14f7d1527d.jpg. . .


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  • 1 year later...

With the recent Coronation, there have been quite a few interesting displays appearing in museums and through virtual platforms online. A very interesting video shows the Coronation robes of the Duke of Wellington from the Coronation of King George IV! It's fascinating to see the real thing, rather than just the engraving of the period. And the boots look so small. 



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On 8/4/2021 at 11:01 PM, GCCE1854 said:

So, I thought it would be neat to find a few things that survive from the Duke of Wellington that give a picture of his normal life when not fighting at the Battle of Waterloo.


Just a little trivia.


Apsley was the first house on the north side of Piccadilly and consequently it became known as ‘Number 1, London’. Its correct postal address is now 149 Piccadilly but to many the former is the one it is known by. 

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@Gunner87 That's so neat! I did NOT know that. Wow! That seems rather fitting that such an iconic address would belong to one of the country's greatest heroes.


And since we're thinking of Apsley House, here are a few more images of "Number 1, London".







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