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Wellington: Waterloo And The Fortunes Of Peace 1814 - 1852

Rory Muir
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5 Mushroom Heads
Rory Muir’s first volume, Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769 – 1814, consisted of 34 chapters, effectively divided into four separate parts, covering his life from birth in 1769 to the end of the Peninsular War in 1814. After covering his earlier years his battles are dealt with in some depth, the author examining in detail the attitudes that together made him such a complex and interesting man, not just as a soldier but also during the years between his return from his time in India to the start of the Peninsular campaigns. Part of his Preface to the second volume effectively reiterates this period of his life in a few pages. The second, and final, volume covers in detail the period from 1814 until 1852; his military successes and his time as a politician up until his death in 1852. For me, Rory Muir’s Prologue set the scene when he pointed out the differences in portraits done by Thomas Lawrence because Wellington was admired and yet, at times reviled by certain parts of the population and the media of that time.

Split into five parts, the first spends six chapters dealing with the celebrations following the Peninsular War before Napoleon’s return. Then follows the well described battles at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, the aftermath and the occupation of France.

The remainder of the book follows in a generally chronological order, part II covering his time in the Cabinet and in part III, his time as prime minister during 1828 – 1830. The following six chapters of part IV cover various aspects of his life while out of government office until Part V where the fortune of the Conservatives changed to form a new government in 1841 and Wellington was asked to join as Leader of the Lords. This he accepted and, in 1842 became Commander in Chief, a title he held until his death.
Rory Muir has produced an excellent second part to his biography of Wellington. He shows Wellington to be a realist who did not always fit in with the sometimes devious ways of politicians preferring a more direct way of dealing with problems though he was in politics during some of the most difficult times of government during the nineteenth century. In modern times he might well have been known as a negotiator because he certainly managed to help keep the peace in Britain while promoting good relations with the continental powers of the time. Added to that must be his part in the granting of political equality to Catholics in Ireland and the repeal of the Corn Laws amongst other trying times involving riots, demands for electoral reform, and the possibility of divorce within the royalty. This book is also a very good insight into his own private life.

As with the previous volume, the details, illustrations and maps are both clear and comprehensive, with endnotes which can lead the unwary reader astray. It is so easy to follow up some of his references to become completely off track. On a personal basis I wish the first six pages of the Bibliography had been at the beginning of the book because the information in it is almost a “trailer”and an encouragement to read the book. It is worth mentioning that this biography can be enhanced by a visit to both Apsley House and Walmer Castle.

The book is not a quick read but one to be read a part at a time and digested before moving to the next part. It is most certainly one for the bookshelf, to be referred to more than once.
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