Monday, 30 June 2008

Duke of Wellington - The Early Years

The Iron Duke, old nosey, or as the spanish named him "The Eagle". One of the undeniable greatest generals of all time and not a terrible Prime Minister, Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley.

The Duke was born in Ireland. To one of the english aristocratic families who owned all the land over there back then, there is a famous quote he supposedly used when questioned on "being irish" which went;

If a gentleman happens to be born in a stable, it does not follow that he should be called a horse.

Actually the earliest source of that quote is attributed to someone else speaking about him, so if it took place at all he was probably quoting someone else. Its still a pretty awesome quote though and I had to work it in somewhere. Horse. Heh.

Anyway, Nosey was an average student and a middle son and not supposed to have any great destiny. His mother referred to him as listless and a worry, but when he attended the French Royal Academy his academic skills finally come to the front. And he picked up horse riding and French, something that would come to be of use later when he spent his time riding around killing the French.

6 foot 20,
weighed a fucking ton

- Totally a real poem about the Duke

He signed up to the army, as Ensign, the lowest commissioned rank for a gentlemen and was bumped up to Lieutenant by the end of the year. He was stationed in his native Ireland, mostly training, attending balls and giving advice and so forth. Nothing terribly exciting.

He did fall in love with Kitty Pakenham, eventually decided to make the appropriate approach to engagement. Which meant attaining the families permission, because back then in the good old days women were pretty much commodities. Her brother denied his request, thinking he had little prospects.

In a fit of rage he burnt all his violins. No really, he burnt all his violins. He was an aspiring musician apparently, so that wasnt as random and emo as it seemed, and decided to dedicate his life to military glory. I like to picture him, sitting by his bonfire of classical musical instruments, glass of wine in his hand, cold daggers in his heart and steely look in his eyes... damning the world. If they ever make a modern biopic of Nosey that scene better be in there.

He bought his way up the ranks a bit, which was how it was done back then. If you wanted to see action you paid for it most of the time. He got his first call to action, Flanders, an unsuccessful campaign to invade France. Thats right, sometimes they dont just surrender and get started buffing your shoes ten minutes in.

It wasnt exactly steeped in glory, he got a bit ill and didnt distinguish himself greatly, though he rose in the ranks a little to command a brigade. He learnt a few valuable lessons, the importance of maintaining a steady rate of fire and holding the line, how naval support can change a battle and so on. It was the start of his own personal style and what ended up making him a great general, his keen understanding of defensive lines. That and realising the men are "the very scum of the earth" and keeping them flogged and hung to keep them in line. Old school militarism, try that these days and they would be on the phone to the union in a shot.

"At least I learned what not to do, and that is always a valuable lesson."
- On the Netherlands campaign

He was given a chance to go into politics more seriously, which he turned down to set sail to Calcutta. It was in India he started to show his promise better, he worked carefully on logistic preparation for his battles. Showed a keen understanding of terrain, an idea a lot of officers of the time didnt fully grasp/use and his most important feature, he understood the importance of discipline in the troops.

He went on to Seringapatam, other parts of Asia, generally killing and conquering his way as he went. In a dignified English sort of way, obviously. As governor of Seringapatam he was forced to hunt down and kill a mercenary king called Dhundia, but like a gentlemen, made provisions for his orphaned children.

Oh yes, he will kill you, but your kids will learn to read and eat well. That is how he rolls.

Anyway, he went on to be a major commander in the Maratha war. Basically being instrumental in bringing the country to its knees, but taking his heaviest losses to date... over 1,500 in one battle. While the battle was a victory, this had a profound effect on the man.

"I should not like to see again such loss as I sustained on the 23rd September, even if attended by such gain"
- On the Battle of Assaye

Wellesley went back to England. A general, fairly rich and made a knight of Bath. His violin burning emo days behind him, the Pakenhams were soon on the... messenger or whatever they used before phones... pointing out if he still wanted to marry Kitty, that would be fine now. Probably dusting his jacket when he came round and constantly offering to get him stuff, man was going places. And he did, marry her that is as well as go places.

After some minor military expeditions and further forays into politics, the Peninsular war came. The French revolution had come under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the greatest military leaders of all time despite being short, and dude had plans.

I know, its hard to believe France was actually the bad asses of the world once. But really, it happened.

And only one man stood in Boney's way.

Well, actually quite a few people stood in his way, you know, but it would be Wellington who was key to defeating France and Napoleon, garnering Spanish and Portuguese support and dragging his "Scum of the Earth" English soldiers to victory.

And obviously, it would be around this time he commissioned one of the more forgotten heros of the Napoleonics. The working class hero who took nothing from no one and pulled himself up for the ranks. Richard Sharpe.


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