Wellington S Momentous Victory Over Napoleon Was The Culminating Point Of A Brilliant Military Career Yet Wellington S Achievements Were Far From Over He Commanded The Allied Army Of Occupation In France To The End Of , Returned Home To A Seat In Lord Liverpool S Cabinet, And Became Prime Minister InHe Later Served As A Senior Minister In Peel S Government And Remained Commander In Chief Of The Army For A Decade Until His Death InIn This Richly Detailed Work, The Second And Concluding Volume Of Rory Muir S Definitive Biography, The Author Offers A Substantial Reassessment Of Wellington S Significance As A Politician And A Nuanced View Of The Private Man Behind The Legend Of The Selfless Hero Muir Presents New Insights Into Wellington S Determination To Keep Peace At Home And Abroad, Achieved By Maintaining Good Relations With The Continental Powers And Resisting Radical Agitation While Granting Political Equality To The Catholics In Ireland Rather Than Risk Civil War And Countering One Dimensional Pictures Of Wellington As A National Hero, Muir Paints A Portrait Of A Well Rounded Man Whose Austere Demeanor On The Public Stage Belied His Entertaining, Gossipy, Generous, And Unpretentious Private Self The second volume of Rory Muir s magnificent biography of the Iron Duke covers the Waterloo campaign and Wellington s long political career We tend to think of him as a soldier, yet Wellington was an Irish MP before he had ever heard a shot fired in anger, and he left the office of Commander in Chief of the British army three times to fill political posts, including that of Prime Minister 1828 30 He was basically a Tory who believed in effective government over rigid ideological principles, and he could live with the opposition when it carried out that type of government As a peer, he had the luxury of not having to face elections for the House of Commons, and so he had no need to play the populist He was also a principled and likable human being, the sort of man with whom I d like to dine. Rory Muir s Wellington Waterloo and the Fortunes of Peace 1814 1852 fully lives up to the wonderful first volume of his massive biography of Arthur Wellsley, Duke of Wellington The two volumes together are a tour de force and will, I believe, be seen as the definitive biography of Wellington for many, many years to come.First, Muir s research is impeccable and copious This is certainly a piece of understatement on my part In fact, Muir has created a Wellington database that is available online to catalog all the research he did but could not use in the book because it would have been 10 volumes instead of two In some ways I think it would be as difficult to cull research to an appropriate level when writing on a topic that is documented heavily and probably it would be safe to describe the documentation of Wellington s life as overwhelming as it would be to write on a topic that is under documented Muir tackled this monumental task with wonderful balance, maintaining thoroughness without overwhelming the reader.Muir approaches Wellington with an objective perspective As the social and political culture of Great Britain skewed to the left, historians painted Wellington as a military genius that was a true cultural reactionary without much political talent Muir provides abalanced approach to the political and social aspects of Wellington s life Muir s judgements of Wellington are based in the cultural norms of his time not our own I firmly believe that to judge a historical personage on the basis of a later moral evolution or possibly a later moral disintegration depending on one s perspective treats the historical person with great injustice Muir avoids this trap by looking at Wellington in Wellington s own context This is one of my major criteria for judging the value of an academic biography Muir s work in this regard is superb I am so taken with the way Muir told the story of the second half of Wellington s life Parts of the book are very intimate, for example Wellington s close friendship with Lady Arbuthnot, his late in life romance with Angela Burdett Coutts, and his lack of parenting skills Other parts of the biography aredistant from Wellington s direct interaction, but understanding the events usually cultural or social in nature described in these parts is essential to understand Wellington s opinions and roles in the political events of during his life The intimate details and the broad stroke narratives flow smoothly, intertwining to give a vivid and complete exploration of Wellington s life Muir has done a magnificent job.One particularly fascinating aspect of Muir s biography is his periodic descriptions and analyses of caricatures and portraits of Wellington Muir uses these artistic objects to explore everything from Wellington s personality to public perception of him at specific times in his life I was fascinated when these discussions appeared in the text Many of the paintings and drawing are included in the plates I loved this part of the book.One of the best biographies I have ever read It is right up there with Manchester s The Last Lion, McCullough s John Adams, and Smith s Eisenhower. This is a detailed and broadly sympathetic account of Wellington s career from the period between Napoleon s first abdication and Wellington s death Interestingly it does not make the cut off as the battle of Waterloo but includes that as the start of how Muir treats the second part of Wellington s career.I enjoyed the detail, the narrative flow and the use of personal accounts to add colour to the text However I did miss the element of critical analysis throughout the recounting of Wellington s career True, there is a fair and reasonable concluding chapter which seeks to assess the career overall and this argues that there werepositive features to Wellington s post Waterloo political career than had been considered by contemporaries and later historians However this view would have beenconvincingly demonstrated had it been argued at each stage in the preceding account.Nonetheless, this is an important and probably necessary contribution to the picture of The Iron Duke and recommended for this reason for students of early nineteenth century British policital history.
Rory Muir is visiting research fellow, University of Adelaide His previously published books include a highly praised study of Wellington s great triumph at Salamanca and the edited letters of Alexander Gordon, Wellington s confidential aide de camp He lives in Australia.
- 728 pages
- Rory Muir
- 16 January 2019 Rory Muir