Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Duke of Wellington - The Wonder Years




Since 1789 France had been involved in a revolution, what we now refer to as "The French Revolution" which shows a shocking lack of naming fun in my book when we could be calling it "dawn of the decimals" or "rise of the frogs" but there you go.

Of course, quite a few good things came out of the revolution, scientific reasoning applied to society actually helped. The Napoleonic code is a great legal/political system.

Wellesley was sent to Portugal, Britains oldest alley and at the forefront of the action. He reminded his superiors of the importance of Portugal, its terrain making it eminently defendable against aggression and its location tactically awesome for naval combat. Unaware presumably that one day Portugal would spawn Christiano Ronaldo and that in anything it deserved this fate... It was when the war took the offensive that nosey started to shine the most however, in an invasion of the French held Porto. From there he linked up with the Spanish army and met Marshal Victor in combat, giving him a damn good thrashing at the battle of Talavera. You will be familiar with that one because that is where Sharpe took a golden eagle from the french, which may be from a tv show but just as valid historically in my book, because Sharpe is awesome. The elites back home were definitely pleased with that (the victory, not the Sharpe thing) and enobled him Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington.

In modern armies the best you can hope for is a medal or maybe an OBE one day, in those days they were dashing out viscounties and lordships to any man who could take 30,00 men through a French line against the odds, hold an infantry division as its approached by a column and send the old cavalry in a pincer movement and send the enemy running. Now you just bribe the labour party with supposed loans.

Later the war took a turn for the worse, France pitched an invasion of Portugal and the general consensus was "fuck it, they are going to win". But "fuck it they are going to win" isnt in Wellingtons vocabulary, the individual words are obviously since its quite hard to get through a conversation with saying "to" or "it" but as a sentence, meaningless. He was pulling out secret earthworks to make defensive lines, attacking the French on the hop and eventually sent them scurrying back into Spain leaving only a force in Almeda, which was promptly put under siege.

I love the phrase "put under siege" by the way. Its also my preferred euphemism for sex.

n 1812, Wellington finally captured Ciudad Rodrigo, catching the French on the bounce heading back to winter quarters. This was followed by the storming of Badajoz where he apparently broke his composure, the only time he was ever known to do so, nearly weeping at the sight of all the dead.

I know, crying is a bit girly, but when you've liberated spain from Napoleon you will be fit to judge the man. Anyway, war continues, the mans slaughtering french all over the place... he gets bumped up to Earl and then even Marquiss, my favourite title personally, and he is rocking.

Battle of Salamanca, the French made a little mistake in their positioning, he set up his entire strategy on taking advantage of this and giving them a damn good routing. A record victory over a 50k strong force. Salamanca he broke the spanish lines, and got made Field Marshal for it, thats military terms for "big daddy" of a war. It was witnessing his own men break ranks to attack baggage carts for loot that led to his much quoted remarks..

"We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers"

A remark said in an emotional private letter, but given the recruitment of the time not entirely untrue. He was a man who cared for the soldiers, but he knew that unleashed they could be monsters.

He waged war through Spain. His tactical genius came to the front, the only man who could match (and better) Napoleon in that regard. He knew the importance of keeping Spain onside while waging war there, which allowed him to gain the aid and scouting of partisans and bring on side anti-french sentimented parties who had nothing to say for the English. He kept a tight reign on the men, flogging and hangings for those who thought being the army was free reign to rape and murder everytime they took a city. Much like english tourists today in Spain.

The war went well, the Peninisular War was a victory and Napoleon having failed abdicated, defeated. Wellington returned home, where he was given the title we know him by now, Duke. Hailed as the conquering hero.

But Napoleon, much like the villain in any decent cartoon, always has a secret tunnel or escape hatch. He came back from Elba, retook France and began the final stage of what would be known as the Napoleonic wars, culimating in a battle in a place called Waterloo.

Now Waterloo is one of the most examined battles in history, the French were outnumbered but always dangerous and to be fair, on a sheer numbers sheet, you could call it more a German victory than an English one... especially given the importance of the Prussians in waylaying a large chunk of the force meant for the main battle on the flank. But It was Wellingtons final hour, he dictated a beautiful final battle against one of the greatest military leaders their ever was and gave old boney a damn good thrashing and his final defeat.

I leave you with this famous poem from the time, which I think describes the battle better than any boring blow by blow tactical account...


My my, at waterloo napoleon did surrender
Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way
The history book on the shelf
Is always repeating itself

Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo - promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo - couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Waterloo - knowing my fate is to be with you
Waterloo - finally facing my waterloo

My my, I tried to hold you back but you were stronger
Oh yeah, and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight
And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose

Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo - promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo - couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Waterloo - knowing my fate is to be with you

And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose

Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo - promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo - couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Waterloo - knowing my fate is to be with you
Waterloo - finally facing my waterloo


Man, those classic poems are so much more beautiful than the trash they come up with these days. Lets see Carol Anne Duffy come up with something like that.


Nosey went onto politics after his military days, and to be a right wing PM of some success. His politics are a little stodgy by modern standards and he wasnt entirely suited to politics but he served well enough.

A great man, an awesome Brit and one hard mofo.

FUN WELLINGTON FACT - The title "Iron Duke" actually came from his policy of having iron shutters at his house during his politics day, to prevent window breaking from upstart proles, not from his military days.

FUN WELLINGTON IMAGINARY FACT - He was made almost entirely of Jelly. Making his military victories all the more impressive.

2 comments:

The Silly Addiction said...

Also, his fictional sister was boned by a fictional captain called Hornblower and he DIDN'T EVEN CARE.

Got to love the man for that.

Mr. Gale said...

Sharpe could totally kick Hornblowers ass.