The Duke of Wellington’s handwritten orders from the Battle of Waterloo, his battle sword, and a pair of original ‘Wellington Boots’ are among the objects that will go on display in two new exhibitions next year at the two central London properties associated with the battle and its victorious commander – Wellington Arch and Apsley House.
On 18th June 1815, in a terrible confrontation in present-day Belgium, the first Duke of Wellington commanded an allied army which, aided by the Prussian forces of Marshal Blucher, finally defeated the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. The victory ended over 20 years of conflict in Europe and the wider world.
Opening on Saturday 18 April 2015 and to mark the Waterloo bicentenary, the two exhibitions at Apsley House and Wellington Arch will together explore the life of the Iron Duke and one of the most important battles in English and European history.
Built in 1825-27, Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner was intended as a proclamation of Wellington’s victories over Napoleon. The Arch is surmounted by the largest bronze sculpture in Europe, depicting the angel of peace descending on the four-horsed chariot of war.
A new exhibition at Wellington Arch: Waterloo 1815 – The Battle for Peace, will give an overview of the battle, the reasons for it, the people involved in it, and its legacy. Items on display include the sword the Duke of Wellington carried at Waterloo, his handwritten battle orders on scraps of vellum, and an original pair of ‘Wellington boots’. The leather boots that Wellington had custom-made for campaigning were much admired and imitated: adapted over the years to new materials, they still remain popular today.
Apsley House stands opposite the Wellington Arch – still home to the Dukes of Wellington today, Apsley House has changed comparatively little since the first Duke lived there. The house was enlarged in 1828 while Wellington was Prime Minister by the architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt.
In 2015 the Waterloo Gallery – where Wellington held the annual Waterloo Banquets to commemorate the great victory – will be re-presented. A copy of the only surviving menu plan from the annual banquets will go on display and the magnificent Portuguese silver gilt centrepiece and dinner service will be returned to the Gallery, taking its place on a formal banqueting table. The service was commissioned by the Portuguese Council of Regency in 1816 to honour Wellington’s role in liberating Portugal.
Elsewhere in the house, a new exhibition will open with a host of Wellington and Waterloo memorabilia and visitors to Apsley House will be able to explore the collection via four new multimedia tours.
Outside of London, Walmer Castle in Kent – where the Duke of Wellington spent part of each year in his role as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and where he died in 1852 – will be redisplayed in 2015 to shed light on the Duke and on the other fascinating figures from the castle’s history.
New displays will chart Wellington’s career, the story of his time spent at Walmer, his death there, and the iconic ‘celebrity’ status he attained during and after his life.