Words by Mr Colin McDowell

Surely everyone would agree that Ms Jane Austen's famous opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice should have been: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a dude who is really a dude is almost always a military dude."

Certainly, it was the case in her day when the great Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley strode the streets of Regency London's West End as the cynosure of all eyes, a dude from top to toe. No man could match him for glamour. By comparison, Mr Beau Brummell was an insignificant popinjay interested in himself and his appearance alone, consumed by petty vanities and foolish snobbery. Even the other great fighter and leader of men, Lord Nelson, had to yield to Field Marshal Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, when it came to being a hero.

And also to looking a hero - which was almost as important in those flashy days when, like our own, appearances often counted more than actions. Not that Field Marshal Wellington could be faulted on either. As the many rather theatrical paintings of him show, he was handsome and the total image of the strong man of action. He survived 60 battles, after all, and made sure that he went to the very best artists to capture his appearance, and present him as the epitome of masculinity he knew he was. Not that he ever forgot that he was known as the Iron Duke, so he also wished to look resolute and ready. He chose to be painted by the very best, from Mr Francisco Goya, one of the greatest artists of the 19th century, to Sir Thomas Lawrence, whose flashy handling of paint was almost a precursor of modern fashion illustration. And it didn't stop there. In the Duke of Wellington's lifetime alone around 300 portraits were painted in all, many being copies of the great ones. From peasants to princes, everyone wanted a piece of him.

A portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1815. The Royal Collection © 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II/The Bridgeman Art Library

Underneath all the nobility, was the great duke perhaps a little vain and inclined to believe his own publicity? Very probably. After all, he was adored by his troops, even the ones he ordered to be lashed for indiscipline, because they felt that, harsh as his regime was, they could trust him to keep them as safe as any master strategist could in the hideous conditions of warfare at the time, when 18,000 men dead or dying at the end of a day's hand-to-hand fighting could litter the battlefield so completely that the horses of the survivors could not avoid riding over the still-warm bodies. When he rode among his troops before or after a battle (as he always did) it was important for him to be easily recognised in his grey cloak and oilskin cocked hat, telescope tucked under his arm, as he inspected them with those high-arched eyes missing nothing.

Women adored him and he enjoyed many quick liaisons. He was so revered and respected that he could break all the rules of society and be welcomed anywhere, with one exception: Almack's, the most exclusive private social and dancing club in London. Its doors were open to only the grandest in the land and the evenings were run with draconian rules by a committee of aristocratic women close to the court, who insisted that what they said went. The Duke of Wellington, no doubt relying on his inborn Irish charm as much as his fame, and the feeling that no rules, least of all those imposed by women, should prevent a hero entering anywhere, tried to ignore the restrictions set up by the committee. But the night he arrived in trousers (a daytime form of dress) rather than the regulation pantaloons (de rigueur for evening) he was refused entry and, another time, when he and his party arrived late - the doors closed on the dot of 10 - he was again turned away.

No man could match the Duke of Wellington for glamour. By comparison, Mr Beau Brummell was a popinjay interested in his appearance alone

For all the immense fame and adulation the Duke of Wellington enjoyed during his lifetime it is, of course, for the footwear named after him that his name remains in common parlance across the globe today. In fact, the Wellington made of rubber has nothing to do with him at all. The original Wellington boot was made for him by his bootmaker, Hoby of St James's, to be a more convenient and stronger version of the Hessian boot worn by upper class males of the time. The Duke of Wellington wanted a boot tough enough for battle but easy to walk in, while being sufficiently smart to wear with dress uniform in the evening and even to dance in. Hoby got it so right that it was a standard style in fashion for more than half a century and is still produced today.

It was a design solution essentially appealing to - and typical of - this "get on with it" soldier who could not bear fuss. There is a story, never fully corroborated, about the Iron Duke that I hope is true. Known for being cool and insouciant in battle even under the most terrible conditions, the tale goes that galloping into the fray, he came level with one of his officers holding the stump of his shattered arm. "By god, sire, I have been hit!" the man cried through his pain. "By god, sir, so you have!" the Duke of Wellington cheerfully called as he spurred his horse on, eager to join the fighting. Dudes are not only tough, they are realists - and never sentimental.

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