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Wellington: the Great Briton

This video describes Wellington's military and political career after Waterloo, his extraordinary funeral and his lasting impact on British culture.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: The victors of the wars against the French achieved national standing and reputation, but there was a contrast between the hero who had died in battle– for example, Lord Nelson– and the hero, the Duke of Wellington, who had a long career afterwards. Wellington’s political career, his military career, spanned the years to his death in 1852. Wellington’s image in Britain, however, was largely shaped in his absence, in the years 1815 to 1818.
KAREN ROBSON: Britain had been the consistent opponent of the French since the start of the revolutionary wars, and contest between the two countries was ingrained in the national mentality. That Napoleon had been defeated by the British was a matter of huge national pride. This was a national triumph. Wellington enjoyed extraordinary popularity as a national figure. He was the person everyone wanted to write to to support their cause. They wanted to know about him, and he was the subject of massive curiosity.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: There were, however, practicalities of life for the hero. On his return to England in 1818, he was to enter Lord Liverpool’s Tory cabinet as master general of the ordinance. The master general was an unofficial advisor on military matters to the cabinet, and the Duke of Wellington took this role almost on a non-party basis, for the government was unpopular. There was general distress in some parts of the country and political unrest. A march in Manchester in August, 1819, led to disaster. Seeking political reform, the march was brutally suppressed in what has become known as the Peterloo Massacre. A soldier who had fought at Waterloo was killed. The government was linked to acts of repression.
KAREN ROBSON: Wellington came to be seen as someone who was involved in party politics, and for some, this tarnished his reputation. There were periods of contention during his political career. He was Prime Minister between 1828 and 1830. The great measure of his premiership was Roman Catholic emancipation, a measure that was very unpopular in some parts.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: In later life, Wellington was one of the country’s elder statesman, and his reputation was restored. At his death in September, 1852, there was a national outpouring of grief. His funeral in November that year was an event like nothing else. There had been state funerals before, but this was an enormously impressive occasion, with massive crowds lining the streets of London.
KAREN ROBSON: He was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral, next to Lord Nelson, as one of the Great Britons.

The Duke of Wellington continued his military and political career after Napoleon’s defeat, and was Prime Minister between 1828 and 1830. Despite events that tarnished his reputation, when he died in 1852 there was a national outpouring of grief and an extraordinary state funeral for this Great Briton.

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Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

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