Keeping with the Napolionic theme this week but still in England, take a look at the home of Lord Wellington himself, Apsley House and the Wellington Arch.
Addresses don’t come much grander than ‘Number One London’, the popular name for Apsley House, home to the Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, the interior of the house has changed very little since the days of the Iron Duke. With the property boasting one of the finest art collections in London, with paintings by Velazquez and Rubens as well as a wonderful collection of silver and porcelain. Pride of place goes to a massive nude statue of Napoleon (which apparently he hated, you will need to visit to see why).
The Duke of Wellington purchased the house form his elder brother in 1817, as he needed a London base from which to pursue his new career in politics. Wellington employed the architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt to carry out renovations in two phases: in the first, begun in 1819, he added a three-storey extension to the north east, housing a State Dining Room, bedrooms and dressing rooms. The second phase, started after Wellington had become Prime Minister in 1828, included a new staircase and the “Waterloo Gallery” on the west side of the house.
The Waterloo Gallery is, of course, named after the Duke’s famous victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. A special banquet is still served annually to celebrate the date — 18 June 1815 and the Gallery is home to William Allen’s famed painting ‘Battle of Waterloo’. The Duke’s equestrian statue can be seen across the busy road, cloaked and watchful, the plinth guarded at each corner by an infantryman. This statue was cast from guns captured at the battle.
In 1808, Arthur Wellesley assumed control of the British, Portuguese and Spanish forces in the Peninsular War (1808 – 1814), eventually forcing the occupying French to withdraw from Spain and Portugal. When Napoleon abdicated in 1814, Wellesley returned home a hero and was created duke of Wellington. He attended the Congress of Vienna and served briefly as ambassador to France, but in 1815 Napoleon returned. Wellington became commander of the allied armies. With the help of Prussian forces under Gebhard von Blucher he defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. The threat of Napoleon was at an end.
To celebrate this victory over Napoleon, the Wellington Arch was built in 1825-7 as part of a campaign to improve the royal parks. It is crowned by the largest bronze sculpture in Europe, depicting the Angel of Peace descending on the ‘Quadriga’ – or four-horsed chariot – of War.
Next week we will be taking a look at the Route Napoléon in the Cote d’Azur.
Contributor Alexandra Pinhorn.
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