Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

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Arthur Wellesley (1769–1852), widely known as the Duke of Wellington, was a British field marshal who is chiefly remembered for the victory of his army at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, which resulted in the final defeat of Napoleon and the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Wellington had earlier commanded the British forces in the Peninsular War.


Wellington became a Tory politician and was Britain's 21st prime minister from January 1828 to November 1830, also briefly in 1834. Although he was certainly one of the greatest generals in military history, his political career was disastrous and he was one of the worst British prime ministers. He succeeded his Tory colleague Viscount Goderich who had been forced to resign on a no confidence issue. Under the parliamentary rules then in force, an election became necessary following the death of George IV on 26 June 1830. Although it was termed a "general" election, the franchise was limited to wealthy male landowners. However, the issue of parliamentary reform was becoming paramount. The Tories won the most seats but Wellington could only form a minority government. This lasted two months, until 16 November 1830, when Wellington was obliged to resign on the question of reform, which was championed by his main Whig opponent Earl Grey (1764–1845).

Grey succeeded Wellington as prime minister and then won both the 1831 and 1832 elections. The Whig government passed the Representation of the People Act 1832, which Grey had proposed in the face of predictable Tory opposition, especially from Wellington himself. Known as the "Great Reform Act" (or simply as "Reform"), it corrected a number of electoral abuses and extended the franchise to the middle class. It was by no means a piece of democratic legislation because the country remained an oligarchy, albeit a larger one, but it was at least a step in the right direction. It may be considered the beginning of Britain's transformation into a democracy, despite the Tory party. Parliamentary seats in many of the so-called "rotten boroughs" were abolished and the electorate was increased from about 500,000 to 813,000 (males only). The total population at the time was around 14 million.