cover image Wellington: A Personal History

Wellington: A Personal History

Christopher Hibbert. Da Capo Press, $30 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-201-63232-3

One of history's great captains, Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) was also a dominant figure in Britain's public life. In this graceful and well-researched life, Hibbert (Nelson) nevertheless limits his treatment of the duke as soldier and statesman in favor of concentrating on his personality and behavior. The duke was a man of manners rather than feelings, according to Hibbert, a man who understood the rules of a Britain governed, even at the height of the Napoleonic threat, by an oligarchy of birth and deference. His relationships with his wife and children were, at best, remote. If he ever had a ""friend of the heart,"" male or female, it has escaped Hibbert's notice. Nor did Wellington wax sentimental over the men in his ranks. But he understood their capacities as soldiers, saw to their material needs and eventually led them to victory over an army that had been for two decades the master of Europe's battlefields. With significant insight, Hibbert shows how, throughout the duke's long, post-1815 career, Wellington's roles were shaped by his status as the conqueror of Napoleon. As a diplomat, as prime minister from 1828 to 1830, as senior advisor to successive governments and commander-in-chief of the army, Wellington expected deference, and developed an increasingly impervious faith in his own judgments. His status as an archetype nevertheless endured until his death--and even longer in an army that required the multiple shocks of the Crimean War to begin modifying the Iron Duke's presumed legacy. (Sept.)