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History Makers: Wellington

The life and times of the “last great Englishman” reveal a truly fascinating – yet deeply troubled – character, writes Alice Barnes-Brown
NATIONAL TREASURE Wellington, once an isolated and lonely child, grew to be one of his country’s greatest military heroes

The Sun was setting on a soggy Belgian field, littered with the bodies of the men who died that day. The Battle of Waterloo was proving to be an incredibly close call, but Napoleon was growing tired and desperate. Arthur Wesley, the Duke of Wellington, knew that the time to strike had come. In what would be his final battle, Wellington won glory for Britain and relinquished Napoleon’s tight grasp on the continent once and for all. But the story of the ‘Iron Duke’ is more than just a single battle – it is a tale of ambition, family connections and hard graft, which helped the iconic military leader rise from obscurity to worldwide renown.


Thirty years prior, any notion of greatness seemed way out of reach for the young Wesley. The third son of a Protestant Irish aristocratic family, he lacked the prestige and attention given to his older brother, Richard. A lazy and seemingly talentless child, his mother was at a loss. “I don’t know what I shall do with my awkward son Arthur,” she said, after sending him to Eton in 1781 had proved unsuccessful. His only real passion there was the violin.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

Discover the real King Arthur with our exclusive article from archaeologist Miles Russell, who believes that the legendary figure was in fact a Dark Age warlord. Elsewhere, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell go head to head, take a look at life on the Thames in the Victorian era, and learn about the forgotten storyteller who wrote one of our most-loved fairytales.