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Natural talent :
- Not possessed of the genius of Napoleon, Wellington was moulded in more human proportions, and
- Had none of the negative qualities that lay on the other side of
His character proved more stable and enduring. He
- had an inner confidence, powerful self-esteem, and belief in his
own judgement, which contributed greatly to his military genius.
He had an ‘almost
- learned from failure and reverse.
- never repeated a mistake. In fact,
his mistakes haunted him
- had enormous influence in post-1815
Europe, and was largely
- defeating of Napoleon, ending 23 years of war
- restoring the Bourbons, and European stability, though France
was still to have periodic upheaval
- avoiding a punitive peace with France
- restructuring and refinancing
a bankrupt France
Though an outstanding genius, Napoleon was
- Over ambitious, egotistical and egocentric
- Often unpredictable and
Energy and drive
- Very energetic.
- Able to cope with huge workload.
- Answered all correspondence
the same day.
- In the Waterloo campaign (90 hours), had 9 hours sleep.
Already working at 3 am on 18 June 1815. To Ned Packenham he was ‘the
Man of Energy’. He once went 14 days on only 48 hours sleep.
- Preferred to do things himself. Mistrusted judgement of subordinates – often
with good reason
- Read avidly and widely, including every dispatch and
- Studied Napoleon very carefully, and knew his tactics
Energy and drive
- Exceptional energy, but often very erratic.
lead his army through mountain passes in waist-deep snow one day, and
sulk for hours the next
- Extremely fit physically, far above the average officer
horseman, even for his time, which enabled him to move rapidly around
a battlefield. He once rode 300 miles across difficult terrain just
- Not among his great qualities.
- No great rider, he was thrown numerous times.
- Yet, could show extraordinary
physical courage and determation
- Often criticised for abstemious living by his high-living contemporaties
- Could pass the day without eating, and days without sleeping
moderately for the period
- Did little himself.
- Dictated letters and delegated.
Marriage and women
- Not a great success as a husband, but
- Very much at ease with women,
and some the most important insights into his character emerge from
his correspondence with confidantes
Marriage and women
- His power attracted many female admirers
- Marriage to Josephine not very happy.
- Both serially unfaithful.
Divorced Josephine for dynastic reasons
- Had many love affairs, and children
by a string of mistresses
- Though very shy, had a reserved charm and seldom showed his
fiery temper - except to spoilt upper-class officers (‘There"s
nothing so stupid as a gallant officer.")
- Not vain in any sense. Avoided crowds who wanted to cheer him, and
was embarrassed when his troops did.
- Suspicious of all praise and flattery
- Spoke clearly and to the point, always using simple and direct language,
without hiding unpleasant truths
- Valued early in his career as an adviser to cabinet ministers, and,
after 1815, to most of the crowned heads of Europe
- Treated everyone
with the same directness, from kings and princes to his generals, ADCs
and soldiers. This directness often mistaken for insensitivity or rudeness
- Not comfortable among people. Liked to keep a distance
- Liked to attract admiration.
- Treated people generally as inferiors, including
- Could be perfectly charming or absolutely abnoxious, whatever suited
- Genuinely hated war and derived little pleasure from victory
political reform would trigger revolution and lead to demagogy, dictatorship
and more war
- Power, glory, military victory and conquest,
his imperial image, succession and a Bonaparte dynasty, so
- Divorced his wife, Josephine to marry Marie Louise, princess of
- Surrounded himself with regal pomp and as Emperor
- Bankrupted France by extravagence and war
Made wars to extort funds from conquered states
- Installed his largely
incompetent and greedy brothers in high office e.g. as kings of conquered
His low key leadership responsible for
- the reorganisation of the British and Portugese armies into effective
- the development of new battle techniques
One of the greatest and most
successful military commanders in history, never losing a battle in
equal in strategy; his superior in tactics, and ‘the most flawless
commander of all time’ (Neibuhr).
His magnetic genius motivated and organised
- the greatest talent in France in a manner not seen since the days
- one of the finest armies the world has ever seen – alas
sacrificed to his egotistical genius
Certainly one of the great
military geniuses of all time, developing new strategies, tactics and
His highly successful strategy had been used by generals in the past,
for example, by Fabius, the Roman general. However, he was highly successful
in applying an overall strategy and, as commander, he
His was the perfect response to the aggressive French strategy, but at
Assaye he himself employed such a strategy
- Took a very long term view and never lost sight of that
- Evaded the enemy by rapid manoeuvre, wearing them down
- Avoided battles until certain of a desisive victory.
- Always choose
the battle ground (exception: Assaye)
- Conserved troops. Avoided wasting them on heroic or high-risk tactics
or dramatic victories (exception: Assaye)
- Hid his troops so that the enemy would not know his precise strength
and position (exception: Assaye)
- Was high risk, and very costly in troops
- Was driven by political necessity.
- Needed the money he could extort
to fund a bankrupt France
- Alienated conquered states and populations making resistance inevitable
- Studied the terrain very carefully.
- Had exceptional memory for landscape
and geographical details, and how to exploit them.
- First class.
- Best example: Creating the defensive Lines of Torres Vedras
in advance of his retreat into Portugal, saving his army and entire
- Cool and decisive.
- Had exceptional self-control in battle
- Could read a military situation instantly and react very cooly
- Not given to heroics, but exposed himself to the same dangers as
his men. Was hit twice by spent bullets. Had two horses killed under
him at Assaye. His soldiers often implored him to take cover, fearing
for his safety.
- Never sacrificed his troops for a quick victory.
- Declined chance
of a victory he knew would result in high casualties. (exception:
Assaye where a rapid manoeuvre and frontal attack smashed a force 8
times size of his)
- Admitted mistakes freely and learned from them
- Never blamed his troops for failure.
- Often hard on officers: ‘there
is nothing more dangerous than a gallant officer’
- Had no stomach for the destructive elements of war
- Hated the aftermath, such as reading the casualty list, ‘the
- Broke down on reading the Waterloo list
- Determined that Waterloo would
be his last battle
Some commentators diagnose him as a psychopath, because he
- Seemed unable to feel remorse for the catastrophies he inflicted
and the millions killed in the wars he waged
- Abandonned projects that became difficult, such as the Egyptian
- Changed his mind often, and often gave confusing or contradictory
- Was unable to make close friends, and exploited those close to him
(e.g. Bourienne, his classmate and loyal secretary) ‘friendship’ was
a ‘meaningless word’
- Could not tolerate rivals and wanted to take all the credit for
victories (e.g. ‘exiled’ Passepinte after battle of Hohenlinden)
- Forget his failures quickly.
- Did not learn from failure.
- Usually blamed others
- Never forgotting an injury.
- Took disproportionate revenge
- Showed paranoic tendancies from childhood. His paranoia led to the
establishment of a ruthless police state under Fouché.
In addition, he
- Inspired extreme loyalty but seldom returned it
- Saw loyalty as something owed him by right
- Tended to adandon or discard those loyal to him
- Hated people to leave his service and punished them without remorse
(Bourienne) However, he could overlook someone’s faults and failures
if they were useful to him
- Developed a very sophisticated war machine,
- Neglected completely medical services, and
- Did not arrange medical supplies for many major battles
Tactics and tactical skills
- Could read a battle very precisely.
- Never acted impulsively but always
with decision and great resolution
- Knew exactly where to be on the battlefield.
Major contribution to military tactics
- Hid infantry lines on the reverse slope of a hill, protecting them
from artillery and the fire of attacking infantry
- Brought them to the firing line when attacking infantry as close
as 25 metres
- Final phase at Waterloo when allied
infantry repelled the Imperial Guard, inflicting 75% losses
- The use of infantry squares against cavalry was not new, but he
used it with great effect and precision atWaterloo, when Wellington’s
squares withstood 5 massive cavalry charges in 2 hours
Tactics and tactical skills
Many of his tactics had developed early in the Revolutionary
Wars by generals such as Drout (d’Erlon) including
- Attack in column, smashing enemy lines of badly trained and poorly
motivated troops lead by elderly generals using out moded tactics
- Attack at unconventional times, such as in winter during heavy snow
In fact, most of the military improvements credited to Napoleon, were
originated and implemented by his marshals and generals.
Highly motivated troops French troops were feared across Europe, but
- had little regard for their lives and he never spared them
- Demanded more and more effort and loyalty to him personally
- Sometimes cynical in his wastage of troops, expecting them to lay
down their lives in loyalty for him
Worst example: In a last desperate effort at Waterloo
he lied to the Imperial Guard, telling them that the army approaching
was Grunchy’s, and rousing the Guard into an all of nothing charge,
in which 75% fell. The army was the Prussians
The Imperial Guard were repulsed by the British Guards under Wellington’s
personal command, using his technique of hiding infantry behind rising
ground until the last minute.
Relationship with troops
- Didn’t like to be cheered by troops: ‘what will
happen when they want to boo me?'
- Never addressed his troops en masse
- Inspired by leadership and example,
not oratory. Knowing fhat he
wanted to conserve them gave his troops greater trust in him.
- Troops always
inspired by his presence
Relationship with troops
- Looked on his troops as an expensible item in is conquests, and he
wasted them in amanner that often shocked his own marshals.
- Though he has a long-term goal of conquest, he does not seem to have
had any long term vision, except to subdue Europe under France, and subdue
France under his own rule.
Main strategic policy
Low risk strategy, featuring
- Conserving forces
- Avoiding battle unless necessary and victory certain.
In 44 engagements as commander (1809-15), he never lost, though one
or two he would admit to be drawn
Main strategic policy
High-risk strategy, featuring
- Massive armies and agressive tactics
- Quick, decisive and often stunning victories
- Moving vast armies rapidly
- Striking quickly, often by surprise, and with great ferocity, inflictiung
- Preventing the coordination of the enemy forces, and defeating them
The civilized game of European warfare had not seen anything like Bonaparte’s
agressive strategy and tactics. Amazing victories partly due to Europe’s
failure to accept that warfare had changed, and to change tactics
Strategy driven by
Lack of support from UK Government, because
- His family, the Wesleys (later Wellesleys) unpopular, being Irish
and controlling five seats in the London Parliament
- The army not popular. The navy the darling of the British after Trafalgar
Strategy driven by
- Need for glory, which he freely admitted, and which had to fed on
victory after victory
- Need for funds from conquered states, since France was largely bankrupt
for public approbation.
- Victories and conquests covered corruption,
incompetence and maladministration at home
- Government often left Wellington short of resources and
troops. He often complained of being at the mercy of ‘copyboys’ in
- However, he knew high casualties would result in
recall and the end of his campaign
- Very strong, especially while winning foreign wars and bringing back
- Opposition stifled by Fouchés police, and repression of
- The opposition in Parliament, the Whigs, allied to the Prince Regent,
had sympathy for the new France
- The Whigs tried to reach an accord with
Napoléon, despite the experience
of the Treaty of Amiens, and Napoléon’s tendancy to break
- Royalist pockets (e.g. the Vendee) never accepted him
- To supress opposition, he established a police state, employing Fouché as
Minister of Police. Ruthless but effective, Fouché was one of
his betrayers in 1815
- Still had 400,000 troops under arms, and
- Theoricitcally, at least,
could have defeated any army. However, most of these troops deployed
to forestall royalist uprisings, which certainly would have followed
had the troops been withdrawn to fight the Allies
- British press relatively free
- Campaign not widely publicised at first and British people indifferent.
Later, much press and public interest.
- Army, campaign and Wellington
grew in popularity with victories
- Controlled the French press and that of conquered or confederated states.
Strategy required support from
- Local people and irregular forces, such as the Spanish ‘guerrilleros’
- Regular forces, such as the Spanish and Portugese in the Peninnsular
War, and the Prussians, Dutch etc during the 100 Days.
- The strategy
also required disciplined troops.
- The British – Portuguese in the Peninsular War
- Ample resources, usually extorted from conquered states in the form
of taxes or ‘reparations’
- On campaign, the army foraged, reducing the need for supply train,
but slowing the progress of the army while foraging. This
- Alienated the inhabitants of conquered lands
- Resulted, for example, in mass resistance in Spain, Portugal and
- Seldom lived off the land for fear it would alienate the native population.
- bought and paid for all supplies, but sometimes not for quite a while.
This policy and strategy were responsible for
- Victory in the Peninsula, aided by the civilian population support
- Winning over the local civilian polulation of during the invasion
of France in 1814
- Defeat of Napoleon in the Russian and Saxon Campaigns of 1812-14,
as Prussian and Russian generals adopted Wellington’s strategy
and tactics (e.g. Gen. Barclay-Tolley of Russia, which eventually gave
the Russians the upper hand.) There were to be no more decisive battles
that suited Napoleon, until Waterloo.
British command of the seas was critical because it allowed supplies
to be shipped to Lisbon and from there overland, during his retreat behind
the ‘lines of Torres Vedras’. This lifeline saved the army
This strategy required
- A thorough knowledge of the terrain/theatre of war
- A large amount of requisitioning in the area of operations, which
in turn limited the duration of these operations
- A psychological advantage resulting from a myth of invincibility.
Enemy was ‘half beaten before the battle’
No strategic blunders, though some tactical. Though his mastery of improvisation
or his veteran troops always saved him: ‘…they never let
Enormous strategic blunders. The worst of were
- The invasion of Egypt, mainly to control the route to India and the
- The invasions of Spain and Portugal, ostensibly to deprive the UK
- The invasion of Russia while hundreds of thousands of his
troops were tired down in Spain by Wellington and Iberian guerrileros