This month’s museum feature, a "Duke of Wellington" figurine from Royal Worcester’s "Military Commanders" series, stands as a fine example of the craftsmanship, creativity, and attention to detail applied by Royal Worcester in the creation of stunning figurines.
The "Military Commanders" series was created by artist Bernard Winskill, whose paintings and sculptures have been showcased at the Royal Institute Gallery in London, the Society of Portrait Painters Gallery, and the Royal Glasgow Fine Arts Society. The first subject in the series, Napoleon Bonaparte, was released in 1968. Eight other depictions of history’s greatest military leaders followed, including: Duke of Wellington (1969), George Washington (1972), Duke of Marlborough (1973), Alexander the Great (1975), Richard Coeur de Lion (1978), Eugene de Beauharnais (1979), Simon Bolivar (1979), and William the Conqueror (1979).
Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington, is best known today for his role in defeating Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo, but he is also regarded as one of Britain’s finest soldiers and commanders. Wellesley was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1769. After an inauspicious stint at Eton and some additional schooling in Brussels, Wellesley found direction after completing his education at the French military academy at Angers in 1786. Wellesley was commissioned to a British infantry regiment in 1787, and moved quickly up the ranks, gaining a promotion to lieutenant by the end of that same year. Wellesley had become a lieutenant colonel by 1794, when he saw his first action during a campaign against the French army in the Netherlands. Although the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, Wellesley learned several valuable lessons in military strategy.
When his elder brother Richard became the new Governor-General of India, Wellesley became an integral part of the campaign to extend the rule of the British East India Company, making a reputation for himself as a brilliant and meticulous commander. In 1808, Wellesley was given command of the British expeditionary force destined for Portugal to participate in the Peninsular War, a campaign to wrest Portugal and Spain away from Napoleon’s control. Wellesley spent much of the next six years trying to expel the French from the Peninsula, and succeeded when Napoleon abdicated in 1814. Following this achievement, the title "Duke of Wellington" was created for Wellesley, and the title is still held by his descendants today.
After returning home, Wellington accepted a position as British ambassador to France, then served as British plenipotentiary to the Congress of Vienna. Upon news that the ex-Emperor Napoleon had escaped from exile and was amassing forces, Wellington took up command of the Anglo-Allied army in Brussels. In June 1815, Napoleon marched north toward Brussels, and on June 16 he simultaneously attacked Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army and the Prussian army. Wellington was forced to retreat three miles south of his Waterloo headquarters. Two days later, the French attacked the ensconced Anglo-Allied army, but failed to break Wellington’s line after several attempts. By the afternoon, Prussian troops began arriving to reinforce Wellington's left flank, and Napoleon was forced to draw off many of the troops he had hoped to employ against Wellington in order to deal with the Prussian reinforcements. By the end of the day, Napoleon was defeated. A month later he had abdicated for the second time and surrendered to the British, who exiled him to the remote island of St. Helena.
Wellington returned to Great Britain a hero. In 1827 he was appointed to be Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. Wellington grew to be an influential member of the Tory party, and in 1828 he became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. As Prime Minister, Wellington was staunchly conservative, fearing the anarchy of the French Revolution would spread to England. The highlight of his term was the passage of the Catholic Relief Act 1829, which granted almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom. However, Wellington’s conservative policies were widely unpopular, and after only three years in office he lost a vote of no confidence and was replaced as Prime Minister. Wellington retired from political life in 1846 and died in 1852 at the age of 83.
Royal Worcester’s "Duke of Wellington" in our museum is not for sale, but we do have other "Military Commanders" figures available for purchase in our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles. Our Retail Store is open from 9:00 am - 6:00 pm ET, Monday through Saturday and 1:00 pm - 6:00 pm ET, Sunday (except holidays); free tours are available Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm as well as Sunday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you.