Category Archives: Wellington Congress

Rundown of the Sixth Wellington Congress

With our specially designed bicentenary delegate bags stuffed, and some early birds arriving in Southampton on Thursday afternoon, the scene was set for Wellington’s World, the sixth Congress on the life and times of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington.  2015 is a special year: not only is it 20 years since the University hosted the first Wellington Congress but this year we mark the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo.

In total we had around 80 delegates with us over the three days.  Many, naturally, from Southampton, but people travelled from all over the UK as well as from as far afield as America and Australia.  The Congress was situated mostly at the University’s Avenue Campus with residential delegates able to stay at the nearby Highfield Hall of Residence. His Grace the Duke of Wellington opened proceedings and attended sessions on the Friday afternoon.

His Grace the Duke of Wellington opening proceedings.

His Grace the Duke of Wellington opening proceedings.

Delegates were offered a programme of 25 papers; on some days the itinerary was so full we were required to run parallel sessions.  Papers were wide ranging and focused on a variety of topics covering both Wellington’s military career and the battle of Waterloo as well as political, social and literary topics.

The Congress included four keynote papers.   Will Hay from Mississippi State University kicked off proceedings with his paper “Architects of victory: the partnership of Wellington, Castlereagh and Liverpool in winning Britain’s first great war” which discussed this unappreciated partnership between the military commanders and their political masters.

“Strategy, seapower and supplies: the British government’s resources in support of Wellington and the European allies, 1808-1815” was the topic addressed by Roger Knight of the Institute of Historical Research, London.  He considered the extent to which supply shortages were beyond the government’s control and how the resources of the Royal Navy were heavily stretched in keeping trade routes open.

Rory Muir and Charles Esdaile at a private view of the Wellington & Waterloo exhibition in the Hartley Library.

Rory Muir and Charles Esdaile at a private view of the Wellington & Waterloo exhibition in the Hartley Library.

Rory Muir, who is the author of a new two volume biography of Wellington, showed the depth and breadth of his knowledge on the vast amount research that has been conducted on the Duke’s life and career through his historiographical review “The Vicissitudes of Fame: Wellington’s Posthumous Reputation, 1852-2015”.  He discussed how and why Wellington’s reputation as a military leader and politician has evolved in the years since his death.

The Congress closed with a paper from Chris Woolgar who used his extensive knowledge and experience as a professor of History and Archival Studies to give an in-depth analysis of the under-studied Waterloo dispatch, held at the British Library.  We hope to publish a selection of papers in our Wellington Studies series.

On the Friday evening local group The Madding Crowd performed a programme of music specially selected for the bicentenary. Lively, amusing and informative “With Wellington we’ll go” looked at the Duke of Wellington’s roles in Hampshire, at Stratfield Saye, as Lord Lieutenant, and as Freeman of Winchester. Music included hymns and psalms connected with events in his life, and glees and songs written or performed in his honour.  We were also treated to square and Morris dancing.

Dancing at the With Wellington We'll Go concert on Friday 10 April. Photo: Alan Weeks

Dancing at the “With Wellington We’ll Go” concert on Friday 10 April. Photo: Alan Weeks

Five current and former Southampton History students entertained and educated us with their BBC Battles, Waterloo 200 presentation.  This was produced as a sequel The Battle of the Day: Salamanca 200, a collaborative production by seven undergraduates from Southampton University, which was created to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Salamanca in 2012.  This skit television programme was set in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo and included a BBC – that is, British Battles Corporation – news report, BattleGear, which compared  weaponry, in the manner of a certain car programme, and Battle of the Day where the possible future of the Allied campaign was assessed.

The delegates were treated to the first public viewing of the exhibition Wellington and Waterloo: “the tale is in every Englishman’s mouth”.  Original material from the Wellington Archive was showcased in the Special Collections Gallery and delegates were invited to browse and socialise with a glass of wine.

The catering was excellent throughout the three days with the highlight being the splendid 4-course conference dinner on Saturday night.

We are already making plans for the Seventh Wellington Congress which we anticipate will take place in 2018 or 2019 to commemorate the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle and the 250th anniversary of Wellington’s birth.


Waterloo 200: bicentenary events

The Sixth Wellington Congress takes place this week and is part of a number of activities and events organised by the University of Southampton to mark the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo, including:


Wellington and Waterloo: “the tale is every Englishman’s mouth”
13 April – 19 June, 13-24 July 2015

The Battle of Waterloo, fought on Sunday 18 June 1815, between allied forces and the French forces commanded by Napoleon, brought to a close more than two decades of conflict. Drawing heavily on the Wellington Archive at the University, this exhibition captures the final act of these wars from the perspective of the Duke of Wellington. It considers the diplomatic background to the military campaign of 1815, the battle itself, its aftermath and the occupation of France and the commemoration of both Wellington and Waterloo. It includes descriptions of the battle in the official reports of Wellington’s commanders, and a poignant letter from Wellington to Lord Aberdeen informing him of the death of his brother Sir Alexander Gordon, one of Wellington’s aides-de-camp. Amongst the items relating to the commemoration of Waterloo and Wellington are the catalogue of the Waterloo Museum, an establishment opened in the immediate aftermath of the battle, exhibiting memorabilia, and a nautilus shell, engraved by C.H.Wood, dating from the 1850s, which contains an image of Wellington on one side and St George on the other.

The Special Collections Gallery is situated on Level 4 of the Hartley Library, University of Southampton. The Library is on the east side of the University Road, on the University’s Highfield campus.

During exhibitions the Special Collections Gallery is open to the public Monday to Friday 1000 to 1600. Admission is free. Visitors may be asked for proof of identity by Library Reception staff.

MOOC: Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo
8 June 2015 (for three weeks)

Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo MOOC

Led by Chris Woolgar, Professor of History and Archival Studies, and Karen Robson, Head of Archives, at the University of Southampton, this free online course will use the Wellington Archive as its basis to discover more about one of the great events of the nineteenth century from the perspective of the Duke of Wellington.

For more information and to register go to:

Special Collections blog: the road to Waterloo

Road to Waterloo

Regular readers of the blog will be familiar with our recent posts focusing on some of the key dates on the road to the battle of Waterloo. Using material from the Special Collections, including the Wellington Archive, future posts will also focus on the aftermath of the battle leading to the restoration of Louis XVIII.

To follow Wellington go to:

Sixth Wellington Congress
10-12 April 2015


Although registration has now closed for the Congress, it is still possible to purchase tickets for “With Wellington we’ll go” a concert of music from the period by the Madding Crowd at the Turner Sims Concert Hall.

For information and to book go to:

Sixth Wellington Congress 2015


18 June 2015 will mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, one of the most famous battles in the history of Europe. The battle not only ended the political and military career of Napoleon Bonaparte but also ended the series of wars which had raged across Europe, and other regions of the world, since the French Revolutionary wars of the 1790s.

For the 200th anniversary the University of Southampton will be holding its Sixth Wellington Congress 10-12 April 2015.

Papers will focus on a range of topics covering both Wellington’s military career and the battle of Waterloo as well as political, social and literary topics. Keynote speakers will be Rory Muir, Roger Knight, Will Hay and Chris Woolgar.

On the Friday evening there will be a concert of music from the period at the Turner Sims Concert Hall. Saturday will feature a BBC Battles, Waterloo 200 presentation, a private view of the exhibition Wellington and Waterloo: “The tale is in every Englishman’s mouth” in the Special Collections Gallery, Hartley Library, and a conference dinner.

The University’s Hartley Library is the home of the first Duke of Wellington’s archive, and the meeting will include opportunities to see the collection, as well as a programme of social activities. The event is organised in conjunction with the Southampton Centre for Nineteenth-Century Research.

For further details visit the Special Collections website at:

The 26th Wellington Lecture and Cataloguing the lead up to Waterloo

The 26th Wellington Lecture, titled ‘The longest afternoon. The 400 men who decided the battle of Waterloo’, will take place on 22 October 2014 at 6pm at the Turner Sims, University of Southampton. The lecture will be delivered by Professor Brendan Simms, a professor in the History of International Relations and fellow at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. He is the author of Europe, shortlisted for the Lionel Gelber Prize.

The Wellington Arch

The Wellington Arch

Established in 1989 with an endowment from the Spanish Ambassador, the annual Wellington Lecture explores aspects of the life and times of the first Duke of Wellington, one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century.

Over the years the University of Southampton has welcomed a host of distinguished speakers to present the lecture. This year eminent academic and author Professor Brendan Simms will recount how 400-odd riflemen beat back wave after wave of French infantry, until finally forced to withdraw, but only after holding up Napoleon for so long that he lost the overall contest. Drawing on previously untapped eye-witness reports for accurate and vivid details of the course of the battle, Professor Simms will capture the grand choreography and pervasive chaos of Waterloo: the advances and retreats, the death and the maiming, the heroism and the cowardice.

The Road to Waterloo
Among the events set to mark the battle of Waterloo in 2015, the University will be hosting the Sixth Wellington Congress from 10 to 12 April. In preparation for the anniversary Lara Nelson, an archivist in the Special Collections Division, recently catalogued correspondence from the Wellington Papers focusing on the lead up to Waterloo.

“Containing approximately 100,000 items, the Wellington papers are a treasure trove for those completing research relating to the career of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington. Of particular interest is the correspondence to and from the first Duke of Wellington in the run up to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. During the first half of this year I have been cataloguing the correspondence dating from February and April 1815.

The February correspondence consists of 26 letters, covering the first Duke of Wellington’s time at Vienna as British Plenipotentiary, which he began on 3 February 1815. They cover foreign affairs such as whether Vatteline should become a part of Switzerland, the Secret Alliance Treaty made between Britain, Austria and France, and the preparation of troops in Italy in response to Murat becoming King of Rome. An item of significant interest includes a letter from Sir Neil Campbell, who was responsible for accompanying Napoleon to Elba. Dating the 29th February 1815, the letter concerns a copy of a despatch he sent to Lord Burghersh (Envoy-extraordinary and Minister-plenipotentiary at Florence), which relates to the escape of Napoleon from Elba. He instructs the Duke of Wellington to consult the despatch so as not to lose time, and to transmit it to London for the examination of Lord Bathurst (Secretary of War and the Colonies).

The April correspondence includes 255 letters, which cover the escalation of events, and the planning and organisation of the military attack against Napoleon. The letters reflect discussions on how the invasion is to be a success, and decisions made on the composition of artillery, troops and weaponry. Fascinating items include a memorandum from Sir Hudson Lowe. It provides a list of questions to be addressed to deserters and strangers coming from the direction of the operations of the Enemy’s Army. The questions include “If a deserter: To what Corps belonging? Strength of the Corps? Commander of it?”

Together the correspondence provides a detailed picture of the international events leading up to the Battle of Waterloo. Historians can be taken through the various aspects that are involved in preparing a large military attack; from preparing artillery, troops and weaponry, to determining the logistics of security maintenance and the activities of the enemy.”

Welcome to our new blog

Find out about the collections, Special Collections news, events and exhibitions through the new blog.

The Special Collections holds in the region of 6.5 million manuscript items in 2.500 collections and 50,000 books. Amongst the manuscript collections are extensive military and political material for the late eighteenth to the twentieth centuries and one of the largest holdings of Jewish archives in western Europe. The University is the home of the archive of the first Duke of Wellington. The printed collections include early and rare books from the general collections of the Hartley Library and a number of named collections the most notable of these being the Parkes Library, the Cope Collection on Hampshire and Isle of Wight and the Perkins Agricultural Library.

Starting from March 2014, this blog will host weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from the manuscript collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

The Special Collections Gallery exhibition When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare which will run from 13 October to 12 December 2014. As part of the events set to mark the battle of Waterloo in 2015, the University will be hosting the Sixth Wellington Congress 9-12 April, with a related exhibition opening in the Special Collections Gallery at the same time.