Historyland is starting to get its own slang. Here opening a book is an adventure and the writer is your guide. Ever since I was small the Duke of Wellington has fascinated me. Strange perhaps but it’s true. Now having read more than my share of Wellingtonian literature (something that I continue to do). I’d like to pass on some advice as to how to begin learning about this extraordinary man by telling you (in the order I think you should read) what guides to hire.
1: Wellington The Iron Duke, Richard Holmes.
This was the first book I ever read about Wellington, I bought it in paperback in Tunbridge Wells ages ago and have read over several times. It is relatively short, extremely readable (a week tops) and gives the best one volume study available of his life, so far in my opinion no modern work has topped the late Professor Holmes.
2: Wellington a personal history, Cristopher Hibbert.
No book by Christopher Hibbert should be left without a second look. This one, focusing on Wellington’s personality, easily blends hundreds of anecdotal facts with a wonderful writing style that draws you on. It’s more critical than Holmes’ who essentially and wisely agree’s with Elizabeth Longford on most things but this, another relatively easy read, has to be your second port of call.
3: Wellington, Vol 1 Years of the Sword, Vol 2 Pillar of State, Elizabeth Longford.
These are actually my second favourite source on the Duke (if not my first equal to number 1) but due to their size and detail, I suggest you tackle them after priming yourself with Holmes and Hibbert. No study of the Dukes life can be made without these vital volumes now happily reprinted and amalgamated into one thick book and appearing regularly in Waterstones. There is nothing overlooked and they are delights to read as most history books written in the 70s are.
4: The Duke, Phillip Guedella.
If you can find it this book, written comparatively shortly after the Duke’s death (Guedella may be called Wellington’s first modern biographer) is well worth the read because it is wonderfully written, entertaining and Packed full of insight. The fact that Longford and many others used this gem from the 30s as a main source is recommendation enough for me.
5: Napoleon and Wellington, Andrew Roberts.
I would read this not so much as a biography of the Dukes life but as a way of learning about how Napoleon and Wellington saw each other as adversaries and as men, I liked it because by putting this often overlooked area into the spotlight it adds a very engaging layer of character to him. Biographically it is one of the more critical modern appraisals of the Duke and it is possible that Roberts finds Napoleon the more attractive figure.
6: Maxims and opinions of His Grace the Duke of Wellington.
This can be downloaded free from iBooks via project Gutenberg and is a compilation of the best of several other works that detailed the Dukes despatches, correspondents and speeches. Needless to say, reading the Dukes own words is a big eye opener and since the mammoth volumes of Despatches are unlikely to be published for everyday readers this is a great Ebook.
7: The Weller Trio – Wellington in India, Wellington in the Peninsula, Wellington at Waterloo, Jaq Weller.
I will only note these three gems briefly and their low grade here is not indicative of quality. Rather in proposing this list I was chiefly concerned with biographical studies and these books are more military in theme. However no study of the Duke can be complete without a knowledge of his battles and these are the most readable. I also neglect them because I only own two of them, Wellington in the Peninsula has escaped me and I am on the verge of reading Wellington at Waterloo but, I have read Wellington India and highly recommend it.
In total that comes to ten books, or nine if you get the amalgamated Longford from a first hand bookshop, and all are more than enough to get started on (this list can and probably will be amended and added to).
Happy Reading, Josh.