In the aftermath of the battle of Waterloo, both the first Duke of Wellington and the battle were to receive many marks of public recognition. Streets, buildings and public places were named after them. The Percy Histories, published in 1823, identified in London 14 places named after Wellington and 10 sites named after Waterloo. When the first portion of what is now called Regent Street was built in 1815-16, it was called Waterloo Place. One of the new bridges built over the Thames between 1813-19 became Waterloo Bridge. London Waterloo Station was opened in 1848 by London and South Western Rail as Waterloo Bridge Station.
Pubs and inns also were given Wellington’s name, including the hastily renamed Hotel Wellington on the battlefield of Waterloo in 1815, and pubs today continue this tradition. Couples in the nineteenth century chose to name their boys Arthur Wellesley in honour of the Duke, just as children were named after Winston Churchill in a wave of patriotic pride in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Fêted as the “saviour of Europe”, Wellington received not only honours and funds granted to him by Parliament to purchase an estate, but was the subject of numerous paintings, statues and monuments, such as the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner in London.
Wellington appeared in many caricatures — up to 5% of the collection at the British Museum, London — 300 paintings and drawings and 180 published engravings. He also appeared on a range of merchandise, everything from tea sets to snuff boxes. His achievements, usually in the military field, were recorded in other commemorative items, such as the Wellington Alphabet sent to him in 1836. Starting with Assaye, the Alphabet concludes with the lines:
“W for Wellington and Waterloo! / What boundless praise to that great name is due / Which there subdu’d the proud and stubborn heart / Of that ambitious tyrant Bonaparte, / The peace of Europe thus accomplished / And left no field unwon for X Y Z.”While his military image was to be tarnished in his lifetime by periods of unpopularity with the general public, there was a great outpouring of grief at his death in 1852. Wellington was rediscovered as a great national hero by the early Victorian public and was accorded a state funeral on a lavish scale attended by massive crowds. For a period he was again elevated to the status he had enjoyed in 1815. The Times wrote in his obituary that “He was the very type and model of the Englishman”, whilst Queen Victoria declared him “the GREATEST man this country ever produced”.
The interest in the funeral was great. The funeral issues of The Illustrated London News of 20 and 27 November 1852 sold two million copies. There was hardly enough room for those attending the funeral and the whole of the funeral procession route was thronged with people. Shops along the Strand rented out their shopfront, roofs or upper stories. For those who were not able to attend there were memorial services held in churches around Great Britain and at 3pm bells began tolling in every parish church across the country.
The outpouring of grief, the discussions on Wellington’s greatness and symbolism as a national hero, that surrounded his death and funeral represented the mythologising of the Duke. Ode on the death of the Duke of Wellington by the Poet Laureate, Tennyson, which appeared two days before the funeral, commemorated Wellington as the “greatest Englishman”, “as great on land” as Nelson was a commander at sea and the “foremost captain of his time”. The first edition of 10,000 copies of this were sold at one shilling a piece and sold out very quickly. Other commemorative works produced in this period were to cast Wellington in similar heroic terms – for Thomas Carlyle he was a “Godlike man”.
Whether the names of Wellington and Waterloo resonate in the same way in the twenty first century, their legacy is still very much in evidence today in the towns and cities of the UK and further afield.
If you wanted to discover more about Wellington and Waterloo remembered, why not join the (MOOC) Massive Open Online course relating to Wellington and Waterloo, led by Karen Robson from Special Collections and Professor Chris Woolgar from Humanities. To sign up go to: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/wellington-and-waterloo