Wellington: The Years of the Sword, by Elizabeth Longford (1969-72)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Although Elizabeth Longford’s Wellington: The Years of the Sword has now finally been superseded as a factual account of the Duke of Wellington’s military career by Rory Muir’s two-volume work published in 2014-15, her book is still unsurpassed as an insight into Wellington the man. The veteran historian, who married into the same family that Wellington himself had, understood the Iron Duke and presents him as the tough, remorseless, no-nonsense Anglo-Irish aristocrat that he was, but one that also had a human side.

One of the many glories of this book—and incidentally of its second volume Wellington: Pillar of State as well—is its wide range of splendid anecdotes, which Longford was too good an historian not to have checked for accuracy. Like Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate and George MacDonald Fraser’s Quartered Safe Out Here, this book can be read as fine literature as much as for military history, with the reader being bowled along effortlessly by the author’s elegant prose style. And unlike Muir’s book, Longford ended her first volume with the battle of Waterloo, thereby neatly separating Wellington the triumphant soldier from the less-than-successful statesman.