Linda Parker

Opening on 9 September 1897 at the Adelphi theatre on London’s Strand, In the Days of The Duke, written by Haddon Chambers and Comyns Carr, had a limited two-month run. The four-act play had an impressive number of actors — 34 — and the part of Lieut. Col. Arthur Wellesley was played by Charles J Fulton.

The plot of many Adelphi dramas took a back seat to the setting, and this play seems to have been no exception. It opened with a prologue in India in 1800, and then shifted to England and the Continent in 1814 and 1815, with the fourth act on the fields of Waterloo. A comment from one of the critics, following the opening night: “Virtually the only criticism levelled at this superior Adelphi drama (associated with some of the Duke of Wellington’s achievements) was its length; the first-night performance finished at midnight”.

From the sublime to the ridiculous…during the summer of 2015, Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain, Part Three could be seen at the Garrick Theatre in London. Written by Terry Deary and Neal Foster (Birmingham Stage Company), who also played all the characters, Horrible Histories is aimed mainly at young children, but don’t let that put you off! The show included a special sketch with King John to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta; the Great Fire of London; King Charles II; Admiral Nelson; the Duke of Wellington (does he get the boot?); Victorian England and WW1. Billed as “history with the nasty bits left in!”, Horrible Histories is ‘history lite’ but why shouldn’t learning about the Duke be fun?

In 2015 also, BBC2 television broadcast a drama documentary — Wellington: The Iron Duke Unmasked, shown to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and re-shown periodically since then. The programme uses the Duke’s own correspondence, as well as diaries and memoirs of his contemporaries, to investigate his character and relationships via dramatic reconstruction. During this profile we see a note handwritten by the Duke of Wellington at the height of the Battle of Waterloo. It’s extremely detailed, with instructions that the commander in question might have thought stated the bleeding obvious (don’t let your soldiers die, essentially) but, for us, seeing the handwriting collapses the two centuries since it was written. Richard E Grant plays Wellington and Tamsin Greig is the narrator.

From 1993 to 2008, on ITV1, Sharpe ran for five series and most of the stories were based on novels by Bernard Cornwell (who is also the author of non-fiction Waterloo: The True Story of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles). Mostly set during the Napoleonic Wars, Sharpe stars a young and rugged Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe, soldier, lover and man of few words. The dialogue is renowned for its witty one-liners, and one example: “A general who wins battles and lives to claim the credit will never lack for enemies in London”, is likely a comment about the Duke of Wellington. From series two onwards, the Duke is played by Hugh Fraser (David Troughton is the Duke in series one).

There are 16 (14 plus two later returns with an older Colonel Sharpe back in action and heading to India) feature-length episodes, and they are regularly repeated on Freeview channels.

If you make a search for Duke of Wellington on YouTube:

you’ll generate a list of dozens and dozens of all sorts of information on the Duke: documentaries; comedies; quiz shows; music; pubs — a real variety. However, I’ve found two films that I’m going to suggest to anyone whose knowledge or understanding about the finer points of the Battle of Waterloo and/or the Duke’s military history is a bit sketchy in parts (like mine).

The first film (14 mins) is URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDZGL1xsqzs :

and sets out the battle strategy, wins and losses — all with an uncomplicated commentary and easy to understand graphics.

My second recommendation is a documentary in two parts:

The first part is URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4eZJtmemRo and tells of Wellington’s life from his birth in 1769; boyhood in Ireland; his education at Eton; early military career in France; first Army commission; Irish political career; meeting Kitty Pakenham; his time in India; meeting Horatio Nelson; marrying Kitty; through to the campaign in Portugal.

Part Two is URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQyqa2Mzthw , picks up the story in 1806 and covers the Spanish and Portuguese campaigns; the Duke’s leadership skills and battle tactics; Napoleon’s exile to Elba and escape; events leading up to the Battle of Waterloo; Waterloo; Wellington’s return to politics; his time as Prime Minister; riots related to the Reform Act; his old age and death in 1852.

Again, the commentary is clear and uncomplicated for the non-experts among us (or is that just me?).

Apsley House and the Wellington Arch are home to outstanding works of art, and are cared for by an enthusiastic team of staff and volunteers.