Thursday, 1 January 2015

At the road's end: The 8th Duke of Wellington (1915-2014)

Ever since the 1st Duke of Wellington was one of the victors in the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 it has been a tradition that the current Duke of Wellington goes to Windsor Castle on the anniversary of the battle to present the British monarch with a French flag as a token rent for the estate the 1st Duke was granted by the nation in recognition of his victory over Emperor Napoléon I of the French. It would have been wonderful if the 8th Duke of Wellington, who was born two weeks after the centenary of the battle, had been able to present the flag to Queen Elizabeth II on the bicentenary this year, but sadly he died on the last day of 2014, aged 99.
The son of the diplomat and architect Lord Gerald Wellesley, Arthur Valerian Wellesley was born in Rome on 2 July 1915 and was quite naturally named for his great ancestor. However, he was at that time not expected to succeed to the dukedom, but the death of his childless cousin Henry, the 6th Duke, from wounds received in action in Italy in 1943, made his father the 7th Duke and himself the heir apparent to the dukedom, which he inherited - together with a number of other British, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese titles, including Prince of Waterloo, on the death of his father in 1972.
The 8th Duke was a career soldier, who served in the Middle East and Italy during the Second World War and was awarded the Military Cross in 1941. He retired from the British army in 1968 with the rank of brigadier. He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1990.
During the war he married Diana McConnel, who worked in military intelligence, in Jerusalem on 28 January 1944. The Duchess died in 2010. The couple had five children, of whom the eldest, Charles, a former MEP who is married to Princess Antonia of Prussia, succeeds to his father's titles (although it is customary in Britain that the heir to a title does not start using it until after the funeral of the previous holder). Their only daughter, Lady Jane Wellesley, is a TV producer, was at one stage advocated by Lord Mountbatten as a possible bride for King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, but a certain Silvia Sommerlath came in the way of what might have been a grand alliance between the descendants of two of the victors of the Napoleonic Wars.
The 8th Duke of Wellington was last seen in public when he and Lady Jane attended the memorial service for Lady Soames, Winston Churchill's daughter, in Westminster Abbey on 20 November 2014.

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