Apsley House: Home for a Hero
How Wellington’s former home testifies to status in Britain and beyond.
The 1st Duke of Wellington purchased Apsley House in 1817, two years after his famous victory at the Battle of Waterloo. He engaged the architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt to extend and refurbish the house, culminating with the grand extension, the Waterloo Gallery – one of the great palatial interiors of Britain. Once completed in 1830, Apsley House became the centre of glittering social occasions at which Wellington entertained kings, princes and politicians. The most famous occasion was the annual Waterloo Banquet, a lavish evening held for Wellington’s former fellow officers. This was so popular that people gathered outside the house to see the carriages of the guests arrive and a report featured in The Times the following day.
The house, even during Wellington’s lifetime, glorified the hero of Waterloo. Wellington was showered with gifts by the British Government, and the crown heads of Europe sent him the finest porcelain, silver, honours and titles. Today the vast array of Meissen, Sèvres, and most notably the magnificent silver gilt Portuguese service which graces the dining-room table, gives an insight into Wellington’s status in post-Napoleonic Europe.
Apsley House is decorated with Wellington’s impressive collection of Dutch, Flemish and Spanish contemporary and Old Master paintings. It is the Spanish Royal Collection that provides us with one of the most fascinating stories connected to Wellington. The hard-fought campaign against the French reached its climax at Vitoria in northern Spain. Fleeing from the battlefield in 1813, the defeated Joseph Bonaparte had to abandon his baggage train, which was filled with looted treasures from Spanish royal palaces. Wellington saved 165 paintings by artists such as Rubens, Velázquez, Titian and Correggio, and sent them to safety in London. Later, these paintings were presented to Wellington by the restored Spanish king, giving Apsley House a rich legacy.
Keeper of the Wellington Collection at Apsley House