An exhibition on the Duke of Wellington’s time in India opens in London Saturday, shedding light on formative years before he defeated French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo.
Between 1796 and 1804, as the young Arthur Wellesley, he helped overthrow the Tipu Sultan and masterminded victory in the Battle of Assaye.
A decade later he defeated Napoleon, paving the way for a century of relative peace in Europe and a time of vast British imperial expansion.
The collection includes a dinner service commemorating his leadership in India that was later supplemented with cutlery taken from Napoleon’s carriage.
It also includes books from the 200-volume travelling library that, aged 27, he took with him for the six-month voyage to India in a bid to broaden his education, having finished his studies early.
It included books on India’s history, politics and economics, Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and philosophical works.
Arthur Wellesley, was also known as the ‘ The Iron Duke of Wellington’, because of his tough stance – though also because he had barred the window of his house to protect his windows from being smashed by angry protesters.
The “Young Wellington in India” exhibition runs from Saturday until November 3 at Apsley House, which remains the Wellesley family’s London home, on the edge of Hyde Park.
Charles Wellesley, 73, the ninth and current Duke of Wellington, said his great-great-great grandfather’s time in India set the stage for defeating Napoleon.
“It was very, very formative… There is no doubt that he learnt a great deal in India,” he said on Monday.
“Napoleon underestimated Wellington and the reason for this exhibition is to show how important in Wellington’s life was his period in India.” The exhibition features swords, paintings and the Deccan Dinner Service, a vast silver gilt service bought by Wellington’s fellow officers in the Deccan region of India as a mark of their appreciation.
The cutlery for the service was taken from Napoleon after Waterloo and carries his imperial crest.
The service is still used by the family.
Josephine Oxley, keeper of the Wellington Collection, said the India years were “a time when he learned to meld the military and the political, and became skilled at negotiations with the locals.
“It’s a really interesting period of his life.”