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The Iron Duke: A Military Biography of Wellington

The Duke of Wellington was Britain’s greatest general.

Just before his famous victory at Waterloo, an ordinary soldier remarked: “Lord Wellington don’t how to lose battles.” This biography explains why. It describes his apprenticeship in arms in India, where his victories extended the power of the East India Company. Here, Wellington learnt the value of logistics and intelligence: his armies were regularly fed and, in his own words, he used spies and scouts to discover ‘what was on the other side of the hill’.

These lessons were applied in Portugal and Spain, where, between 1808 and 1814 he trounced Napoleon’s armies and showed the rest of Europe that the French were not invincible. He led by example, inspiring his men by his calmness, and demanding the highest standards from his officers; like him they were gentlemen, whose birth, outlook and sense of duty qualified them to lead. His army was a mirror of British society: obedience from those below and paternal obligation from those above. Wellington knew his duty and made sure his officers did theirs.

This biography, relying heavily on original sources, examines Wellington the leader, the men he followed, and shows how, together, they won battles. It also presents Wellington the man - a humane, highly intelligent and acerbic aristocrat who believed that men of his birth and breeding were destined to rule.


“Excellent... Lawrence James paints the familiar picture with skill.”

The Times

“The description of the battle (Waterloo) is a stirring account of one of the most important in the history of Europe.”

Daily Telegraph

“A clear and concise account of the Duke’s military life.”

RUSI Journal

“A first-rate military biography which highlights Wellington’s appreciation of the whole business of war: intelligence, strategy, staff work, supply, tactics and, not least, morale.”


“The Iron Duke is a military biography of Wellington, but it is much more. Very well written and highly entertaining.”


“What one has here then is a one-volume history of Wellington’s generalship which despite any shortcomings it may have clearly knocks Elizabeth Longford’s ‘Wellington; Years of the Sword’ into a bicorne hat.”

John Plowright

Buy Lawrence James