Arthur Wellesley, who was afterwards made Duke of Wellington, by which name he is known almost all over the world, was born in Ireland on the 1st of May, 1769. There are not many stories told about him as a boy. He was for years looked upon as the dunce of the family, and his mother especially treated him, for this reason, much more strictly than she did his brothers. Before going to Eton he was at a little preparatory school, and it was while he was there that Wellesley, who afterwards became one of the greatest soldiers ever known, is said to have fought his first battle—with a girl, the sister of one of his schoolfellows. He and his brother coming home from school one day with another boy, quarrelled about some marbles which the two Wellesleys tried to take from their schoolfellow. The owner of the marbles, not strong enough to fight them both, was getting the worst of it, Suddenly, however, he saw his sister, a little girl rather older than himself, also on her way home from school. When her brother told her how his marbles had been taken from him, she bravely joined the battle, fighting with Arthur, and leaving her brother only one enemy to overcome. All at once Arthur seemed to realize what a sorry part he was playing—he, a boy and a gentleman, to be fighting with a little girl. He suddenly stopped, gave back the marbles, and rushed away, so that she should not see him crying with shame and disgust at himself. But he was by all accounts a good deal given to fighting, for though he was described at Eton as "a dreamy, idle, and shy lad," walking alone, bathing alone, and very seldom joining in the cricket and boating, of which there is so much at Eton, yet he was the conqueror in several hard fights. Even in his holidays, when he went to stay with his grandfather in Wales, he managed to find some one to do battle with. This was a young blacksmith in the village, who not only fought, but gave Arthur a "good sound thrashing." This blacksmith, whose name was Hughes, lived to see Arthur, whom he had conquered as a boy, conquer Napoleon I. in the battle of Waterloo. And when Hughes was a very old man he was never tired of telling this little story, and always ended up by saying "that Master Wellesley bore him not a pin's worth of ill will for the beating, but made him his companion in many a wild ramble after the fight, just as he had done before." After leaving Eton, Arthur went into the army.
Just as all through his school-days he had been called stupid and a dunce, so, now that he was a young man, he was thought stupid and dull. He was shy and awkward, and at last it was decided to send him to India.
One of his brothers—Lord Mornington—was Governor-General of India, and it seemed strange that Arthur, belonging as he did to a great and distinguished family, should be so different from all the others. At any rate, to India he was sent, in the hope that he might there prove of what stuff he was made. For six years he remained there; at first he was employed in hunting down the brigands who had for years been a terror to the people, and made their lives a burden to them; and then, to the great surprise of every one, he began to show himself a great soldier. So great a soldier, that one of the battles in which he commanded—the battle of Assaye—will always be remembered as one of the most splendid victories the English ever won in India. At the end of the six years, when Arthur Wellesley came back to England as General Wellesley, his family had already seen that the dull, shy, and awkward young man whom they had thought so little of, was likely not only to make the name of Wellesley famous as it had never been before, but to be one of the greatest generals England had ever had. And this time their belief was a true one.
Four years after General Wellesley came home from India began the Peninsular War, when England was asked to help Spain and Portugal to stand against the great Napoleon. You have all most certainly heard the name of Napoleon Buonaparte, who was born quite a poor boy, in Corsica (in 1769—the same year in which Arthur Wellesley was born), and who, coming to France as a very young man, soon made himself known as a great soldier and a great statesman. He determined to conquer not only all Europe, but Egypt also, and wished to make himself not only Emperor of France, but master of the whole world. He conquered Italy, and having crowned himself, in the great cathedral church of Notre Dame in Paris, Napoleon I. of France, he went to Milan, and was there crowned King of Italy. All these years, while he had been conquering nearly all the nations of Europe, his great desire had been to conquer England, and had it not been for Lord Nelson, whose story I shall tell you later on, he might actually have done so. For years the people of England had been making preparations to resist "Boney," as he was called, should he come. Lord Macaulay, the historian whose monument you will see in Westminster Abbey, "used to say that as a child, at this time, he trembled on going to his little bed in his nursery, lest a French soldier should arrive during the night and run his sword through his body. . . And people before going to bed would often go out-of-doors to see whether the wind was blowing the right way to keep off the French boats for that night at least." But when Nelson at last beat the French fleet in the battle of Trafalgar, it was felt that England was now safe. For, thanks to the "silver streak" of sea between France and England, Napoleon could not get to us without ships. And now, when a great French army had marched into Spain, and the Spaniards begged us to help them against this terrible man, we were only too glad to join with them and take our share in defeating him. And so it came about that General Wellesley was sent out to Spain to take the command in the Peninsular War.
When the Emperor heard this he first refused to believe that it was true, and was then so angry that he ordered the messenger who had brought the news to be imprisoned. He seemed to fear that if the English and Spanish had such a general as Wellesley with them, "they might force the French to fly before them." And so they did, but not until after six years of tremendous fighting. Bit by bit, and step by step, Sir Arthur Wellesley, with the English and Spanish armies, drove the French out of Spain and back again into France. As they gradually drew back he followed them, still fighting and beating them until they were over the border, and the Peninsular War was at an end, and Napoleon was again conquered. Soon afterwards, having been beaten by the Russians, Prussians, and Austrians, as well as by the English and Spanish, Napoleon saw that Europe was too strong for him. Instead of mastering every nation, as he had hoped and meant to do, he now found that the Allies (as all these countries were so called, because they had banded, or allied, themselves together against him) were his masters. He was made to abdicate; that is to say, to sign a paper declaring that he was no longer Emperor of France. But that was not all. So dangerous a man was he, and so likely to stir the people up to rebel against the king, Louis XVIII., who was reigning in his stead, that the Allies felt it would be unsafe to allow him to remain free. He was therefore sent to the little island of Elba, in the Mediterranean Sea, which belonged to England. Here he was really a prisoner, though he always insisted upon being treated as though he was still Emperor of France. For one year there was now peace. And then suddenly, early in the month of March, 1815, came the news that Napoleon had escaped from Elba; that he had landed in France; that he had collected an army and was marching to Paris. All his old soldiers came flocking to join him, with cries of "Long live the emperor!" and a few days later he was once again in the Palace of the Tuileries in Paris, from which King Louis XVIII. had fled when he heard the terrible news that Napoleon was coming.
At first the Emperor tried to be on peaceful and friendly terms with the Allies, who had before defeated him; but soon he heard that they were preparing to fight him again, and that the English were again to be commanded by Arthur Wellesley, who had now been made Duke of Wellington. This time the news seemed to please him. "Then I shall measure myself with Wellington," he said; and in the speech he made to his army before setting out to meet the enemy (waiting for him near Brussels), he spoke of the English as "madmen" to imagine that they could conquer the French. "If they enter France, there they will find their tomb. Soldiers;" he went on, "we have forced marches to make, battles to fight, hazards to run, but with firmness victory will be ours." So he believed, and so he set out full of hope to meet Wellington face to face, for this was the first time these two great generals saw one another on the field of battle. In the Peninsular Wellington had fought against the French, but not actually against Napoleon, who at that time was with another army fighting the Austrians.
Most of the English army was now stationed in Brussels, and there, on the evening of the 15th of June, the Duchess of Richmond (whose husband and son were both officers, and who had come, as many other English ladies did, as far as Brussels) was giving a great ball. In the middle of the evening a note was brought to the Duke of Wellington, who was there. He read it, and then went on talking quietly to the lady who was with him. Presently he left the ballroom, and sending for his officers, told them he had just heard that Napoleon was quite near, and that he meant at once to go out and meet him. "Then," so it is said, "he quietly withdrew, changed his dress, and mounted his horse." And all the rest of that short summer night there was "heard in the streets the tramp of columns [of soldiers], the clatter of horses' hoofs, and the roll of artillery. . . One by one the officers, who were at the ball, stole away." And a few hours later they were fighting, many of them still in their evening clothes, not having had time to change. That day was fought the battle of Quatre Bras. Indeed, there were two battles going on at the same time; the Prussians at Ligny, a little way off, were being attacked by one division of the French army, while the Duke of Wellington at Quatre Bras was fighting with the other.
That night, when the battle was over, the soldiers "lay down on the ground where they had fought. The Duke slept beside his men, though not till, by the light of the bivouac fire, he had skimmed through a whole bundle of English newspapers which reached him soon after dark. . . Through his glass he had been able to watch. . . the battle of Ligny," in which the Prussians had been beaten; but he did not seem in the least discouraged or out of spirits, and was quite hopeful that in the end the Allies would certainly get the best of the enemy. An officer who was there, and who felt that this defeat of the Prussians might mean that the French were this time too strong for us, said afterwards how his bad spirits left him directly he spoke to the Duke, and his hope came back as he listened to his cheery talk. All the next day (17th) the English kept hoping that the Prussians would come up and join them at Waterloo, where they had now moved from Quatre Bras, in order that we might be as strong as possible for the great battle which the Duke knew must soon be fought. But they did not arrive, so on the next day (Sunday, 18th of June) the Duke took possession of two farmhouses on the plain of Waterloo and the battle began.
"It was about eleven o'clock, just when we in England were going to church"—so the story of the battle of Waterloo is told in a book you will all enjoy reading, if you have not already read it—"that the onset began. The Duke and the Emperor were within half an hour's ride of each other, and both were constantly consulting their watches to see whether the Prussians would come. Thirty thousand Frenchmen were let loose to get possession of the farmhouse of Hougomont, and around this building . . the battle raged throughout the day. Napoleon watched his army with calmness, praised the dash and valour of his soldiers, and never seemed to doubt for a moment that he would be victorious. The rain had been falling for thirty hours when Jerome Buonaparte (the Emperor's brother) began the battle, which went on till six o'clock in the evening, when Buonaparte saw some deciding blow must be given lest the Prussians should arrive. So he brought up his Old Guard, the very flower of his army, and, urging them to charge boldly under Ney (one of the best of his generals, who was called 'the bravest of the brave'), he went to a hill called La Belle Alliance, and stood under a tree looking through his telescope." Then at last the Duke of Wellington ordered the advance of his whole line, "and nothing could withstand the assault of the British now that they were allowed to act on the offensive (and make for the French). The Old Guard wavered, and then gave way. Napoleon saw it, and exclaimed, 'All is lost!' and galloped off the field. Just at that moment Blucher (the Prussian general) was seen advancing with his army through the woods, and the fatal cry, 'Let those save themselves who can!' ran through the French line, and all was over."
It was late in the evening, and already growing dark, when the battle of Waterloo—the greatest battle which the Duke of Wellington ever fought, and by which his name will always be remembered—was over.
Napoleon, who had laughed at the English as "madmen" for venturing to fight him again, was now once more, and once for all, conquered. After the battle of Waterloo he was sent, not again to Elba—for that was now supposed to be neither far enough away from Europe, nor secure enough to hold him—but to the island of St. Helena, in the South Atlantic, not far from the Cape of Good Hope, a journey now of a fortnight in a large and fast steamer, but in those days taking very much longer to reach. Here for nearly six years he lived, watched day and night by soldiers to see that he did not again escape, and here, on the 4th of May, 1821, he died.
Although he had done so much, during his lifetime, to harm France, yet after his death his body was brought back to Paris to be buried with honour. And there, under the great Dome of the Invalides, you will, if you some day go to Paris, see his tomb.
This story of Wellington has grown to be a very long one, but it is impossible to tell you of him without telling also the story of Napoleon, "the greatest captain of the world," as Wellington himself called him.
And now at last Wellington, in winning the battle of Waterloo, had brought peace not only to England, but to all Europe. Buonaparte was conquered, and once again men, women, and children felt safe as they had not done for years, while the Duke of Wellington was thought the greatest hero and the greatest soldier England had ever known.
The fighting days of the Iron Duke were now over, and, coming to England, he began to work for his country in another way. He had for many years been a member of Parliament, and at last King George IV. made him Prime Minister of England. And, in helping to make laws and govern the country, he worked as hard in politics as he had before worked as a soldier. His great enjoyment, when he could get away from his work in London, was to go down to Walmer Castle. He had been made Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and Walmer Castle is given to the Lord Warden to live in during his lifetime.
Here he led a quiet, restful life in that quiet little seaside place. Later on, when he was no longer Prime Minister, he would go there for weeks at a time, and fill the castle with guests (among whom were always some children—grandchildren or nephews and nieces—whom the Duke liked to have with him). There is a story which shows how much time and thought he gave to make the lives of these children full of every possible happiness. One morning some of them who were with him at breakfast-time, watching him open and read the big budget of letters awaiting him, said how much they wished that they too could have letters at breakfast-time. The Duke said nothing; but the next morning, when they came down, lo! and behold, on each plate was a letter—a letter from the Duke—which had been written the day before, posted, and delivered by the postman with the rest of the letters. And every day, during all the weeks they were at Walmer Castle, the Duke, in the midst of all he had to do, never missed writing the children letters to greet them in the morning.
Another little story of him which I must tell you will be remembered by all children. One day the old Duke (for he was then a very old man) was walking in his garden at Walmer Castle, when he heard sounds of sobbing on the other side of the hedge. Going to see who was in trouble, the Duke found a small boy sitting by the side of the hedge and crying as if his heart would break. On being asked what was the matter, the boy said that he was going away the next day to school, and he was crying because he was sure that his pet toad, who lived in that hedge, and whom he came every day to see and feed, would die while he was away, for there was no one who would look after it. "Never mind, my boy," said the Duke; "I will look after the toad, and tell you how he goes on." So, much comforted, the boy went away to school, and regularly every week came a letter—"Field-Marshal the Duke of Wellington presents his compliments to Master—,and begs to say that the toad is well."
These stories are only some of the many that are told, showing how this great soldier made himself loved, not only by his officers and soldiers, who saw him in times of danger and of war, but also by all who lived with or near him in times of peace and quiet; and by those who as children had the happiness of knowing him, he was never forgotten.
He lived to be eighty-three years old, and died at Walmer Castle on the 14th of September, 1852. If you ever go to Walmer, you must not forget to see in the Castle the room in which the old Duke died, and which is kept now just as it was during his lifetime. There is the little camp-bed which went with him through all his wars, the folding desk at which he used to stand and write, and the great high-backed armchair in which he died. In a glass case you will be shown the boots which he wore at the battle of Waterloo, the telescope he used in battle, and many other interesting things. From the window of his room is a beautiful view of the sea, and before the trees had grown to be as high as they now are, the white cliffs of France could be plainly seen on a clear day. People living in Walmer used often, on a fine morning, to see the Duke, in the white trousers and blue frock-coat worn in those days, strolling about on the terrace in front of the Castle, reading his letters and papers. And as he looked away over the sea to France, how often he must have thought of his great battles and his great enemy—Napoleon Buonaparte!
At first it was thought that the Duke of Wellington would be buried in the little churchyard of the old church at Walmer, where he used to go every Sunday. But it was felt and said throughout the country that so great a soldier, who had done so much for England while he lived, should be buried in the great church in the "heart of London," as the City is often called. And so it was arranged that he should be buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.
"Here in streaming London's central roar,
Let the sound of those he wrought for,
And the feet of those he fought for,
Echo round his bones for evermore."
These words, from one of the greatest poems Lord Tennyson ever wrote—on the "Death of the Duke of Wellington"—express what all the people of England, from the Queen downwards, thought and felt when they wished the great Duke to be buried under the dome of St. Paul's.
During the last days, before his body was moved from Walmer Castle to London, thousands of people came from far and near to take their last look at Wellington as he lay there in state. In the meadows round the Castle troops of soldiers (both cavalry and infantry) had been stationed, and late on the evening of the 10th of November the funeral procession left Walmer. It was quite dark, except for the torches carried by the soldiers who formed the guard of honour. The bands played the Dead March, while the guns at Walmer and at Deal Castle fired salutes as the procession moved slowly down to the station. After lying in state at the Royal Military Hospital in Chelsea, he was buried on the 18th of November. London on that day was a never-to-be-forgotten sight. Dean Stanley, of whom I so often spoke in telling you the tales of Westminster Abbey, was there, and wrote an account of it. "The crowd," he said, "was not confined to the pavements, but swarmed up the houses and trees; . . galleries were erected along the whole of the Strand and immense platforms round the Strand churches . . and the crowd sat in numbers numberless on the roofs of the houses. . . Inside the cathedral it was all bright sun streaming on the bare white walls; . . the great grandeur . . consisted in the masses of human things piled tier above tier through the whole nave, transepts, and dome, all in mourning, except the red officers and soldiers. . . At last the long white procession of choristers, some from every cathedral in England, headed by the Bishop [of London] and the Dean [of St. Paul's], moved up the nave, singing the funeral verses; then came the coffin" (which was placed on a platform in the centre of the cathedral). The Prince Consort, Lord Douro, the Duke's son, and hundreds of officers and soldiers stood round it, while Dean Milman, who had been as a small boy in St. Paul's at the funeral of Lord Nelson, the greatest English sailor, now read the service at the funeral of the Duke of Wellington, the greatest English soldier. "Every word," it is said, "was heard up to the highest galleries. . . Then came the anthem . . and then instantly began the thunders of the Dead March while the coffin was . . lowered into the crypt. . . The whole congregation were requested to join, and I believe did join, in the Lord's Prayer . . then (after some magnificent music by Mendelssohn) came the Blessing by the Bishop; instantly a sharp shrill bell, followed by the tremendous boom of the Tower guns, roaring as if through the heart of the cathedral . . and then a general pouring out" of all the immense crowd which had that day filled St. Paul's to see the funeral of the Duke of Wellington.
In the crypt you will see the huge car on which the coffin was brought from Chelsea to the cathedral, and which was specially made from some of the bronze cannons captured by the Duke from the enemy in his many wars. It is tremendously heavy, and was drawn by twelve black horses.