BORN: 2 July, 1915 in Rome. Died: 31 December, 2014 in Hampshire, aged 99.
The 8th Duke of Wellington, whose direct ancestor “The Iron Duke” won the Battle of Waterloo and twice served as Prime Minister, was himself a distinguished military figure. He won the Military Cross for bravery in the face of the enemy in the Middle East and rose to the rank of brigadier. The Duke was active in public life, often speaking on military matters in the House of Lords and much involved as a councillor of Hampshire County.
Sadly, the 8th Duke’s death comes just four months before the celebrations begin for the 200th anniversary of the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.
Brigadier Arthur Valerian Wellesley, 8th Duke of Wellington, was the son of the 7th Duke and Dorothy Ashton. He was in the shooting V111 at Eton and read History and Languages at New College, Oxford. The Duke enjoyed the social life at Oxford, being a member of the Bullingdon Club. He embarked on a military career and was commissioned into the Territorial Army, then into the British Army Reserve in 1939.
He initially served with the Royal Horse Guards in Palestine and became well practised in more modern warfare when the regiment was mechanised. While out on a patrol in Iraq the Duke was confronted by enemy armoured vehicles outside El Beida. He displayed cool leadership to his men and was awarded the MC for his courage in the face of heavy enemy aggression. The citation read: “This officer’s conduct throughout the operations in Syria was exceptionally gallant and he was a magnificent example to all ranks of his squadron.”
He took part in the battle of El Alamein before being wounded when a boiling cup of tea exploded. It was in late 1943 that he learned that his cousin, the 6th Duke, his elder by three years, had been killed with the Commandos at Salerno. Wellesley’s father succeeded as the 7th Duke, and he inherited the title, Marquess of Douro.
The Duke was posted to the staff in Jerusalem where he met Diana McConnel, who worked for her father, Major General Douglas McConnel – a well-known Scottish family who lived at Colmonell, Ayr. They were married in 1944 and the Duke was dispatched to serve in the advance through Italy.
After the war the Duke served with the Occupying Forces in Germany but returned to mount the guard at King George VI’s lying-in-state in Westminster Hall. His army career continued in peacetime and he saw service as commanding officer of the Blues in Cyprus and commander of the Royal Armoured Corps in Germany. His final appointment was as military attaché in Madrid – an appropriate appointment as he owned a 2500-acre estate near Madrid and held an ancient title - Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo.
The Duke retired from the army in 1968 and became involved in maintining the family’s considerable estates and the famous London home: Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner – with the address of “Number 1, London.”
When he succeeded to the title in 1972 he had to find large sums to pay death duties. Parts of both estates were sold along with many works of art and papers belonging to the 1st Duke. There was considerable embarrassment when a 120-piece Sèvres dessert service made for the Empress Josephine was bought by the French government. The export licence was delayed and the Sèvres service is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Duke decided to open Stratfield Saye, the 17th-century house in Hampshire. It had been owned by the family since 1817 and had been given to the 1st Duke by a grateful nation. The 8th Duke ensured the military memorabilia were handsomely displayed and the Wellington Exhibition houses many battlefield mementoes.
The Duke was involved in business and became a director of Massey Ferguson and Motor Iberica. He was involved in a variety of military associations (the Royal British Legion), animal welfare societies (National Canine Defence League, Kennel Club) and countryside affairs (the Game Conservancy Trust, Council for Environmental Conservation). He proved an active and diligent member of committees whose advice was always practical and thoroughly considered.
The Duke was the last Colonel-in-Chief of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, was a Knight of the Garter and held the Legion of Honour.
The Duke’s wife died in 2010. The heir to the title is Charles, Marquess of Douro, a former MEP. He is also survived by three other sons and a daughter.