Book Review: Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814


by Rory Muir

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 728. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., online resources, index. $38.00. ISBN: 0300186657

The Rise of Wellington

Muir, who has written extensively on Britain and the British Army in the era of the “French wars,” gives us the first of what is now a two volume life of Wellington.  Muir his account into four parts. 

“Obscurity and Dependence” covers Wellington’s origins, early life, and surprisingly swift rise in military service (1769-1796) , due in part of family influence but mostly to his remarkable abilities .

India and Independence” covers Wellington’s  impressive service in India , where he won several notable battles and, more importantly, learned to manage an army on campaign, and his rise to influence and fortune (1796-1805). 

“War, Politics, Fame, and Controversy” give us a look at Wellington’s political career, his role in the Danish Campaign of 1807, and his first victories in the Peninsula, which were marred by ineptitude in higher places that almost ruined his career (1805-1809). 

“Adversity and Triumph” takes up about half the text, and covers Wellington’s role in the protracted Peninsular Campaign (1809-1814), with many a hard fight

Muir’s battle pieces are well done, often going into considerable detail.  Although this is ground well trod by some very notable historians, by making use of documents and private papers that were unavailable to earlier biographers, Muir is able to look more deeply into some aspects of Wellington’s career , and also to clarify some hitherto murky matters.  Unlike most accounts of the war in the Peninsula, he gives more credit to Portuguese and Spanish, with some interesting insights into their problems and their role in helping Wellington achieve victory. 

Although it may seem odd that Muir ends this volume before the Campaign of Waterloo, he makes a case that the conclusion of the Peninsular Campaign marked a major turning point in Wellington’s life.  This is a first rate account of the rise of the greatest English-speaking general, and will prove useful reading for anyone interested in the period.


Note: Wellington: The Path to Victory, 1769-1814 is also available in paperback, $25,00 paper, 978-0-3002-0548-0 , and there are several ; proprietary e-book editions on sale as well .


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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