WELLINGTON: A PERSONAL HISTORY is a traditional biography in the best sense. It presents the life of the Duke of Wellington in an organized, chronological fashion without overtaxing the reader with details. After describing his education at Eton, Christopher Hibbert spends most of the first half of the book on Wellington’s military career. Wellington first served in a brief campaign against the French revolutionary republic and then fought in India where he established a strong reputation in the late 1790’s.
Wellington’s fame, though, stems from his campaigns against Napoleon. His role in the bitter fighting in Spain and Portugal left him with a lifelong distaste for war; his role at Waterloo made him a living legend. Wellington dealt with his fame well and never sat on his laurels, for in later life he became a cabinet minister, the Chancellor of Oxford University, and, for a brief time, Prime Minister.
Perhaps Hibbert’s most poignant touch is his account of the Duke’s relationship with his wife. The two were not happily married and Wellington had several intimate female friends, but Lady Wellington admired her husband and, at the end of her life, the two were reconciled. Hibbert says little about the Duke’s activities as the Chancellor of Oxford University or about his support of the controversial purchase system, the traditional means by which officers were granted promotion in the British Army.
Hibbert’s account of the Duke’s life is engaging and informative. His discussion of military affairs is detailed but accessible to the non-specialist and his depiction of the more personal aspects of Wellington’s life is enjoyable yet respectful.