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Posts Tagged ‘Duke of Wellington’

One of the hightlights of the Open House peregrinations yesterday was a visit to Apsley House. Now I have to confess that I only became aware of this building quite recently but the actual visit was quite an eye-opener. For those as ignorant as me, Apsley House is the London home of the Dukes of Wellington, bestowed on the First Duke, Arthur Wellesley, for services rendered. It is at Hyde Park Corner, near the site of the old turnpike at what was then the western limit of London, hence its unofficial address of No. 1 London.

apsley house

Apsley House

It’s a magnificent honey-coloured Georgian mansion with a raised portico of corinthian columns and beautifully appointed rooms. So far so heritage, ho hum. But what stunned me was the sheer volume of honours that were bestowed on Wellington, all represented here. And the gifts!

I would categorise the honours as being medals, ribbons, sashes, stars, ceremonial swords and Field Marshal batons. The gifts comprised mainly dinner services, trophies, goblets, shields, candlabra, historical scale models and portrait paintings, mostly fashioned in fine decorated china or silver by the finest craftsmen of the day, all individually worth an absolute fortune. I particularly enjoyed seeing the portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

What all this brought home to me was just how massive a public figure Wellington was in terms of sheer prestige and celebrity. Women (in particular) loved him, men sucked up to him and crowds followed him wherever he went.  But at the time, was he the equal of Nelson in this regard?  Public criticism of Nelson was almost sacrilege, whereas the Iron Duke was on the receiving end of all manner of brickbats and satire during his post-military life. Would his historical fame have been greater had he died in battle rather than surviving and pursuing a relatively successful political career?

I know without looking that all these questions have been properly addressed by learned historians, I’m just looking forward to finding the time to read up on it.

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