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The University of Southampton

In the footsteps of a national hero: the Duke of Wellington uncovered

Published: 3 November 2008
Richard Holmes
Military historian, broadcaster and author

The fascinating life and glittering career of the first Duke of Wellington are explored in two events at the University of Southampton in November. A younger son of an impoverished Irish peer, Wellington rose rapidly through the ranks of the army and ultimately defeated Napoleon at Waterloo to become a national hero.

Military historian, broadcaster and author Richard Holmes is sharing his insight into the man behind the hero in his presentation entitled 'In the footsteps of Wellington' on Thursday 20 November 2008 at the University of Southampton as this year's 20th Wellington Lecture. The occasion marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the allocation of the Wellington Papers to the University under the national heritage legislation.

Richard Holmes is the latest in a long line of distinguished speakers who have presented the lecture, which was established in 1989 from an endowment by the Spanish Ambassador and is given each year on aspects of the life and times of the first Duke of Wellington.

He ranks Wellington alongside the Duke of Marlborough as the two greatest commanders in British military history. "Wellington deserves recognition for the sheer breadth of his achievement," he says. "Beating the Marathas in India, campaigning - often against the odds - in Portugal and Spain, and then playing a major part in defeating Napoleon at Waterloo: it was a remarkable achievement. He was indeed a general for all seasons."

Richard Holmes has combined military and academic careers. He as educated at Cambridge and Reading universities, and taught military history at the Royal Military Academy Sandhust for many years. He gave up his Sandhurst job to command 2nd Battalion the Wessex Regiment 1986-88, and then moved to Cranfield University at Shrivenham, where he is currently Professor of Military and Security Studies. He has written 25 books on military subjects, most recently a biography of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, presented seven BBC 2 TV series, and is president of the British Commission for Military History.

He enlisted in the TA in 1964, was commissioned two years later, and transferred to full-time service to command his battalion. He later became the TA's one brigadier, and from 1998-2001 was the first reservist to serve as Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets. From 2000 to 2007 he was Colonel of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, and visited it on operations in Northern Ireland, the Balkans and Iraq.

There are strong links between the University and the Dukes of Wellington. The fourth Duke led the campaign for a university for Wessex in the 1920s and the seventh Duke was the first Chancellor of the University of Southampton. The papers of the first Duke are among the archives held in the Special Collections Division of the University Library.

The 20th Wellington Lecture takes place at 6pm - 7.15pm on Thursday 20 November 2008 in the Turner Sims Concert Hall, on the University of Southampton's Highfield campus. Refreshments will be available in the foyer from 5.30pm.

There is no charge to attend but places are limited and registration is essential on

Before the Wellington Lecture, Professor Chris Woolgar, Head of Special Collections at the University of Southampton Library, will deliver his inaugural lecture as Professor of History and Archival Studies at 3pm in the Turner Sims Concert Hall. Entitled 'Wellington, his papers, and the nineteenth-century revolution in communication', the lecture focuses on the exceptional archive of Wellington's papers. The collection numbers some 100,000 items of official, military, diplomatic and political correspondence covering the first Duke's career from 1790 until his death in 1852.

The lecture examines the Duke's working methods and practices of writing generally. It highlights why the collection is so large and why so much material about public business is in an archive of private correspondence.

Chris Woolgar is a graduate of Southampton and Durham universities, and qualified as an archivist at the University of Liverpool. After cataloguing the archives of two Oxford colleges, he returned to Southampton in 1982 to work on the Wellington Papers. He has been Head of Special Collections in the University Library since 1991.

The lecture will be followed by an open invitation to visit the Special Collections Gallery at the University's Hartley Library to view the exhibition 'Wellington and his papers'.

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