All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I call ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill’.



The Duke of Wellington

Welly and Boney

One of the most extraordinary things about The Duke of Wellington was his borderline obsession with Napoleon. After defeating Napoleon, Wellington seduced not one but two of the Emperor’s former girlfriends. He also made friends with Bonaparte's sister, bought her a house and hung a saucy picture of her on his bedroom wall.
The two mistresses were Josephina Grassini, a beautiful opera singer, and Josephine Weimer, an actress, both of whom had been Napoleon’s mistresses several years before Waterloo. He treated the latter very well, once pushing forty thousand francs down her cleavage (as historian Andrew Roberts points out, 'presumably in notes'). Weimer compared the Iron Duke and the Petit Corporal in bed, saying that 'Monsieur le Duc etait de beaucoup plus fort' ('The duke was much the stronger').
Seducing Napoleon's lovers was all part of a victory campaign by Wellington – he even hired Napoleon's cook, despite the fact that according to contemporaries he could scarcely tell rancid butter from fresh. After the wars ended, Wellington was presented with Napoleon's sword, three paintings of Napoleon, and the aforementioned painting of his sister, Pauline Borghese, showing her nipples clearly.
In perhaps the ultimate humiliation, Napoleon had commissioned an eleven-foot statue of himself as Mars, the god of war, naked except for a figleaf and a cloak. In 1816 the British government bought it and presented it to Wellington, who put it at the bottom of his stairs in Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner in London. It stands there to this day.


You must build your House of Parliament upon the river: so that the populace cannot exact their demands by sitting down round you.

The Iron Duke

There’s a persistent myth that Wellington was nicknamed ‘The Iron Duke’ because he was so unpopular that he had to put iron shutters on his house to protect him from mobs of protesters.
This is not true. It is true that rioters broke the windows of his London home – Apsley House, also known as Number 1 London – in protest over his Reform Bill, and he did have iron shutters installed. However, he was already known as the Iron Duke by the time he did so. It seems most likely that it referred to his uncompromising style of governance and his rigid inflexibility. He was given the nickname by an Irish nationalist newspaper, which used it to describe his attitudes to Ireland.

Queen Victoria once asked Wellington how to remove sparrows from Crystal Palace. He replied, ‘Sparrowhawks, Ma’am.’

When a vicar asked Wellington whether there was anything he would like his sermon to be about, Welly said, 'Yes, about ten minutes.'

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON (1769-1852), at Waterloo

Hard pounding this, gentlemen; let’s see who will pound longest.


I always say that, next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.


Boots and Britches

Who invented Wellington boots? Not Wellington, it turns out. The Amazonian Indians had been making gumboots for centuries before Wellington was born – their traditional method was to stand knee-deep in liquid rubber until it dried.
The boots named after the duke were designed for him, but were made of leather, not rubber.

Wellington once got into trouble over his trousers. In the early 19th century, trousers (as opposed to breeches) were considered very disreputable; Trinity College, Cambridge had a rule that any student in trousers was to be deemed absent, and the clergy of Sheffield were issued with the edict that 'under no circumstances whatsoever shall any preacher who wears trousers be allowed to occupy a pulpit'.
So when Wellington went to his club one evening wearing a pair, he was asked to leave. This was pretty remarkable considering that he was a national hero who had just been made a Duke following the Peninsula War – but a dress code is a dress code, and he left quietly. 

In his will, Napoleon bequeathed a sum of money to a man who had tried to assassinate the Duke of Wellington.

Quotable Misquotes

The Duke of Wellington is often quoted as having said of his men, 'I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but by God, they frighten me.' What he actually wrote was a joke to a friend about the quality of his generals:

'When I reflect upon the characters and attainments of some of the general officers of this army, and consider that these are the persons on whom I am to rely to lead columns against the French, I tremble; and as Lord Chesterfield said of the generals of his day, "I only hope that when the enemy reads the list of their names, he trembles as I do.’”
Then again, he definitely did once describe his troops as 'the mere scum of the earth'.
Another thing Wellington never said was that 'the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton'. He only went to Eton briefly – at the time it didn’t even have any playing fields, and he apparently didn’t like games much. The phrase was first attributed to him four years after he died, in a work of Catholic propaganda by the French historian Count de Montalembert.

The Duke of Wellington played for the All Ireland team in the first recorded cricket game in Ireland. He scored 6 runs in his 2 innings.

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON (1769-1852), Postscript to a letter to his nephew, 1814.

I believe I forgot to tell you I was made a Duke.

The famous bearskin hats of the Grenadier Guards were introduced to Britain after Wellington saw the French wearing them at Waterloo.