Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, died on 14 September 1852, at Walmer Castle, Kent. He was regarded as one of one of Britain’s premier soldier, a reputation that was sealed by his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Yet he also enjoyed a long political career, serving twice as Prime Minister of Great Britain, 1828-30 and 1834.
As befitted his status as a national hero, Wellington was given a state funeral. After lying in state at Walmer, his body was moved to Chelsea Hospital on the night of 10 November and laid in state there until the 17th when he was moved to the Horse Guards. At 7.30am the following morning a grand funeral procession proceeded from St James Park through Piccadilly, Pall Mall, Charing Cross and the Strand and on to St Paul’s Cathedral. An estimate crowd of one and a half million people watched the procession. Wellington’s state funeral was the first large-scale service under the dome of the cathedral and the building was closed for six weeks prior to the event to install seating for the 13,000 people attending.
The Illustrated London News in its coverage of the funeral noted:
“With pomp and circumstances, a fervour of popular respect, a solemnity and a grandeur never before seen in our time, and in all probability, not to be surpassed in the obsequies of any other hero heretofore to be born… the sacred relics of Arthur Duke of Wellington have been deposited in the place long since set apart by the unanimous design of his countrymen.”
The University of Southampton is the home to the principal collection of the papers of Wellington. The archive contains approximately 100,000 items of the Duke’s political, military, official and diplomatic papers covering all aspects of his career between 1790 and 1852.
The University has recently acquired an interesting new collection of Wellington related material (MS 351/6). Part of this new collection will feature in the Special Collections exhibition to mark the bicentenary of Waterloo in 2015. As well as an intriguing letter from Wellington to Major Dickson of the Royal Artillery from 1812, there is a fine series of nineteenth-century military illustrations (several of Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo), Cruikshank cartoons and a contemporary map of the Battle of Waterloo. The most unusual item is a nautilus shell, engraved by C.H.Wood, depicting the Duke of Wellington on one side and St George slaying a dragon on the other. C.H.Wood was a specialist in this nineteenth-century art form and shells by him were exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. A shell produced by Wood to commemorate Lord Nelson is held at the National Maritime Museum in London.