The Duke of Wellington in 100 Objects
Frontline Books (Pen & Sword Books) 2020
ISBN 978 1 52675 862 0
Illustrations: 150 colour
Looking at a subject using 100 Objects is I think a novel way of examining a theme, producing not only a detailed account of that topic, but very much an encyclopaedia on the subject matter that makes for an especially useful reference source. Gareth Glover has already produced Napoleon in 100 Objects which is a valuable addition to any library on the period and has now produced an equivalent volume on the Duke of Wellington.
I judge a book by two main criteria. First, did I enjoy reading it, and second, did I learn something new from it? For The Duke of Wellington in 100 Objects the answer to those questions is a resounding Yes! It is a book I found hard to put down. It covers every aspect of Wellington’s life, from his military career to his time in politics, plus details of his family and his relationship with them.
The book begins with his birth in Dublin and a discussion of when exactly he was born, together with an examination of the stories surrounding where he arrived. This theme continues through the book, discussing the various versions of stories relating to his life. The ‘Objects’ include images and tales relating to his family including Garret Colley Wesley, his father; his mother Anne, Countess Mornington; his brothers Richard, William, Henry and Gerald, and their sister Anne. We are treated to accounts of their lives and careers with eclectic objects illustrating these fascinating stories, such as Gerald’s Sick Note Allowing Him to be Absent from his Parish dated 1842, providing insights into the lives of the people in Wellington’s life. Wellington’s family cannot be examined without including his unhappy marriage to Kitty Pakenham, and we are presented with an account of her relationship with her husband, especially after he came back to England and then when he was Ambassador in France, including the views of others regarding her character. These make for fascinating glimpses into Wellington’s personal life.
The author has included within each object a discussion of some of the myths surrounding the great man. One such story is that Wellington originated the term ‘Tommy Atkins’ for a British soldier after seeing a mortally wounded soldier in Flanders in 1794. In fact, the author states that this term was already in use as early as 1743. Another interesting tale is how the nickname ‘The Iron Duke’ came to be applied to Wellington, supposedly after he fitted iron shutters to Apsley House after his windows were broken in the Reform Bill riots of 1832. Newspapers began referring to him as the ‘Iron Duke’ in June 1830 before the riots occurred, a reference to his iron will rather than to the shutters. I was also intrigued to learn that the Duke was a bad shot, often shooting both dogs and members of the party when out hunting! All these stories add little-known detail to the life and character of the first Duke of Wellington.
The Duke of Wellington in 100 Objects is generously illustrated with photographs and contemporary images to illustrate all aspects of his life: from his military career, his family life, his political activities, to his final years. It is a veritable encyclopaedia of his life with entries illustrated with images some of which I have not seen before. It is a book that covers all aspects of his story and makes for a valuable addition to any library on the subject. It is an exceptionally good companion volume to Gareth’s Napoleon in 100 Objects. Once you start reading it you will find it hard to put down. Highly recommended.