‘Moving forward in the old style’: Revisiting Wellington’s Greatest Battles from Assaye to Waterloo

Huw J. Davies


Waterloo, as Wellington's final battle, and his only encounter with Napoleon, has been feted by historians as the Iron Duke's greatest battle. This article argues that, whilst the circumstances of the battle undoubtedly render it as one of Wellington's greatest, in terms of its importance in military history (i.e. the history of how wars are fought) Waterloo is in fact not Wellington's greatest battle. Instead, the article examines two of Wellington's own choices as his greatest: Assaye, fought in India in September 1803, and the Nivelle, fought in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Across a sweep of history that takes in Wellington's whole military career, it can be seen that these two battles represent Wellington's learning curve and illustrate his tactical, operational and strategic brilliance. By contrast, Waterloo was for Wellington a hard fought but disappointing battle, since Napoleon has proven less effective an opponent that expected. Indeed, the victory at Waterloo arguably bred stagnation and lazy thinking about the military profession within the British Army between 1815 and 1854.

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