Time to toast the Iron Duke


On June 18, the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo will be celebrated, marking the decisive military victory which finally put paid to Napoleon’s imperialist designs on Europe. And much credit for the victory goes to the Duke of Wellington, although without the last minute intervention of the Prussian General Blucher, it might have been a close run thing.

And the Duke of Wellington, the aristocrat formerly known as Sir Arthur Wellesley, was a Ryer (or had been). On April Fool’s day 1806 he entered Parliament for the first time, after a safe seat had been found for him at a by-election in Rye. It was a busy month for him too, as ten days later he got married in Dublin to Kitty Pakenham, before returning to London to take his seat in Parliament and make a maiden speech before April was out.

Wellesley managed a parallel career of politics and the army for several years becoming Earl and Marquess of Wellington in 1812, after a string of victories over the French (before getting his dukedom in 1814), which removed the tiresome need to get elected to Parliament. However, his involvement with Rye at that point was short-lived. Parliament was dissolved in November 1806 and he was returned at the subsequent poll as MP for Newport on the Isle of Wight.

A right wing Tory, Wellington (who grew up in Ireland) was Prime Minister from 1828 to 1830 and very briefly in 1834. He was vehemently against the 1832 Reform Act which extended the franchise (so more people had the vote), although he did push through Catholic emancipation (the granting of almost full civil rights to Catholics) in 1829, while Prime Minister, against much opposition from within his own party. Indeed, he fought a duel with Lord Winchilsea, an alleged strong supporter of Northern Ireland’s Orange men, with pistols at dawn in Battersea Park (which was declared a draw) over this very matter. Possibly not the first or last time that men from Rye and its neighbouring town have quarrelled (though in this case it was their links with Ireland which seemed to be the cause).

In 1829 he was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a post which he held until his death in 1852 at Walmer Castle in Deal, which re-connected him with Rye. So, whatever your politics, you might want to raise a glass to the Iron Duke next Thursday, June 18.