lundi 4 mai 2015

Rediscovering famous characters : who knows Arthur Wellesley in France ?

by Jean-Jacques COURTEY, Doctor in Economic Geography, Ph.D

If you were making a quick poll in Paris or even in Angers about Arthur Wellesley, nobody would certainly know his name.
Some people might think he is a soccer or a rugby player, as it sounds well for that.
Others might think he is an Anglo-Saxon singer, still unknown but on a good way to become famous !
And they might even ask for the dates he would appear on stage to make a reservation for the show !
Yet all of them would be totally wrong, as he was born in 1769 in Ireland (Dangan Castle) !

In fact, Arthur Wellesley (1769 - 1852) was Anglo-Irish. He had studied in Eton (UK) and Brussels (non independent Belgium at that time), before coming to France, in Angers precisely.
He entered there the Royal Military School in 1785 till 1786. And at that time, the military strategy in France was dominated by the recent inheritage of Maurice de Saxe (1696 - 1750), a great field-marshal of Louis XV (1710 - 1774), and his cousin also. Nearer to us, let's quote anecdotally that the female novelist  "George Sand" (Aurore Dupin, 1804 - 1876) was his great-grand daughter ! Maurice de Saxe was an admiror of Alexander the Great (356 - 323 BC), and he was very much influenced by him - under a funny mimetism. It's important to know that the tactics of Maurice de Saxe are still taught nowadays in West Point (USA).
About the young Arthur Wellesley, he became in 1787 lieutenant of infantry and even instructor, before coming back to England.
Have you got an idea of this famous character now ? No ! Well, let's go on then our narration !

He served in the regiment of the Duke of York in Netherlands against France (1794), and learnt over there according to his own opinion, "everything you should never do" in military strategy not to lose.
When commanding himself an army in India (1799 - 1803), he became renown for his exceptional talents and his final victory against the Confederation of Maratha.
In Europe, he lead the combat against Napoleon (1769 - 1821), starting with Portugal (1808),  continuing with Spain then (1809 - 1814), the Pyreneas after and finally Toulouse - where the field-marshal Soult (1769 - 1851) couldn't hold in front of him in the beginning of april 1814.
Do you guess now who he was ? Not yet ! Don't worry, it's coming through our conclusion, about a great man who created a great shock in all Europe and elsewhere, by changing the destiny of the whole world for two centuries !

Napoleon considered him as a "bad general", for his strategy and his antic way to fight, when him was more modern and efficient. Actually, Wellesley was commander-in-chief and field-marshal !
Wellesley still believed in Napoleon's genial tactics (wrongly), and at the opposite Napoleon didn't consider him much (wrongly also). As a matter of fact, Wellesley's infantry, like "Macedonian phalanxes" torn the Imperial Guard of Napoleon to pieces in the final battle of Waterloo (June 18th, 1815), from 7 : 30 P.M., so before rejoining the Prussian Blücher (1742 - 1819) at 9:00 P.M..

Wellesley, who became Duke of Wellington in 1814 (you got it !), was still doubting till the evening of the battle's issue, which took place near Brussels.
He even wrote to his brother, who was General Governor of India, after the battle :
"I have never had so many worries for a battle, and I have never been so near to the defeat !"
His seemingly defensive strategy mixed with an unexpected sudden boldness was yet victorious.

On the French side, only the field-marshal Nicolas Soult openly questioned Napoleon's strategy against Wellington, but he just got the anger of Napoleon as an answer, and had to shut up !
So Waterloo wasn't lost for Napoleon only because of field-marshal Emmanuel de Grouchy (1766 - 1847), eating delicious strawberries in an inn of Wavre during the main battle !

Napoleon was certainly a great man (a lot of British people even admire him nowadays), but he clearly underestimated Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, who looked so fragile - almost diaphanous - to him ! Yet this same man pleaded successfully, during the Congress of Vienna (1815), for France not to be excluded from the concert of nations !
And as a tory, he became later twice Prime Minister of UK (in 1828 - 1830, and for a short while in 1834) !

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