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Early life and career
Arthur Wellesley (or Wesley) was born in Dublin, Ireland to an old Anglo-Irish family. His parents were Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington (1735-1781) and Anne Hill-Trevor. His father was a noted music composer and philanthropist. His mother was daughter of a Viscount. Arthur was the third surviving son of the family and had no hope of inheriting the titles or estates of his father. He received formal education at both Dublin and London during his childhood.
Arthur was enrolled at Eton College in 1781, a bit younger than the average first-year student. He continued his studies until 1784, never graduating. He was reportedly a rather poor student while his social awkwardness left him isolated by his peers. His family was facing financial problems following the death of his father and probably could no longer afford paying for his education. Anne moved to Brussels in 1785, deciding to take Arthur with him. She then enrolled him for a year at the French Royal Academy of Angers. He was trained at the secrets of horsemanship and proper use of the French language.
Arthur returned to Great Britain in 1786. He was now 17-years-old, decently educated (by the standards of the time) but unemployed and directionless. His family were concerned and started considering finding a position for Arthur in the Royal Army. Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland (1754-1787), an old friend of the family, was asked to help them out. On March 7, 1787, Arthur joined an infantry regiment as an ensign, a junior commissioned officer. In October, 1787, Arthur attached himself to George Nagent-Temple-Granville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham (1753-1813) as an aid-de-camp (personal assistant, secretary).
On December 25, 1787, Arthur was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. He became active in the social life of Dublin for the first time. His military pay allowed him to administrate his own modest finances. He started gambling and had to borrow money at times. But took care to never get "helplessly in debt". In June, 1789, Arthur received a transfer from the infantry to a Light Dragoon regiment. The Light Dragoons were mounted infantry regiments, men used as both infantry and light cavalry depending on the military situation at hand.
Arthur made his debut in politics in 1789. He was elected to the Parliament of Ireland, representing the constituency of Trim. At the time only the landowners of Ireland actually had voting rights, so the vast majority of the Irish population had no way to influence the decision making. Most MPs were themselves members of landowning families. In fact, Arthur served as a replacement to his brother William Wellesley-Pole (1763-1845) who was the previous MP for Trim. William had inherited a considerable fortune from a distant cousin from the Pole family and was then able to get elected in the British Parliament. Arthur served in the Irish Parliament from 1790 to 1797 while also active in the Army.
He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1791. During this period, Arthur fell in love with Catherine "Kitty" Pakenham (1773-1831) , a daughter of Edward Pakenham, 2nd Baron Longford. In 1793, Arthur sought her hand in marriage. He was firmly rejected by her family who viewed him as an unsuitable suitor, citing his gamvling debts and seemingly stagnant military career. He had been serving in the Army for four years with no signs of ever getting a command position. Arthur felt himself thoroughly humiliated. He devoted himself to rising though the hierarchy, before trying again.
Baptism of fire
From 1683 to 1871 it was legal for officers of the Royal Army to purchase their own promotions. That is offer a certain sum of money to the state in exchange for a promotion. Arthur started saving money to rise to the next ranks. He first purchased a Captaincy at the 33rd Regiment, which was at the time stationed in Devon and Cornwall. The 33rd was an infantry regiment which had acquired a considerable reputation in the last few decades, mostly because of its outstanding record of service in the American War of Independence (1775-1783). Arthur was seeking the prestige of his new position.
He kept trying to buy new promotions throughout 1793. Rising first to the rank of Major and then to that of Lieutenant Colonel. By the end of the year, Arthur was the new commanding officer of the 33rd. His rapid rise came with a price. By this time, the United Kingdom was part of the First Coalition, a broad alliance of European states against Revolutionary France. In 1793, a British force had been stationed in Flanders, Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium) to face a French invasion. In 1794, more British units were send to Flanders. With Wellesley's 33rd Regiment among them.
Arthur arrived at Flanders in the Summer of 1794 and got his baptism of fire at the Battle of Boxtel (September 15, 1794). He contacted himself well for a rookie officer. But the Winter of 1794 would have a traumatizing effect on the British forces in general. Throughout the Autumn, the e French enjoyed a series of victories and managed to advance north, invading the Dutch Republic. At this point several allies of the British started withdrawing their forces from the area. But the British government refused to even consider retreating or negotiating with the enemy. This resulted in the weakened Austrian, British, and Dutch armies trying in vain to stop the invasion forces of French general Charles Pichegru (1761-1804).
Like the rest of the British forces, Wellesley's men faced supply problems. Which in the midst of winter turned deadly. More men fell victim to sickness rather than enemy fire. The campaign soon turned to a disaster. The French captured Amsterdam on January 19, 1795. The British forces had to retreat in haste towards Bremen, Hanover. Followed in their retreat by remnants of Austrian, Dutch and other Coalition units seeking refuge. The failure revealed several of the weaknesses of the Royal Army. Disagreements between the various commanding officers, lack of coordination, problems in the supply system and equipment of troops helped hasten the French victory. Wellington himself observed the various blunders of the various leaders. He would later consider this a very important lesson, influencing his later career. He claimed having learned "what not to do" while in leading position.
Campaigning in India
Arthur and his 33rd Regiment were back on British soil by April, 1795. But the regiment had been largely depopulated. Over 200 men were dead, other 192 were hospitalized. The Regiment had to be reorganized and new recruits had to replace the casualties. They were deemed fit for service again in November. Arthur was assigned to lead his regiment to the West Indies (the Caribbean) to guard the British colonies there. However the ships transporting them there ran into a storm and were almost lost at sea. They had to retreat back towards the British islands, where they spend December, 1795 recuperating.
In 1796, Arthur was promoted to the rank of Colonel for seniority reasons. He was then assigned to lead the 33rd regiment to Calcutta, India. At the time the journey by sea from Great Britain to India involved circumnavigating Africa and then crossing the Indian Ocean. A journey could last for a year. Arthur and his Regiment arrived to their destination on February 17, 1797. His early service there was uneventful. But Arthur soon found himself under the command of one of his brothers. In 1798, Richard Wellesley, 2nd Earl of Mornington was appointed the new Governor-General of India.
Peaceful life would not last for long. The Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1798-1799), once again found the British East India Company facing the Kingdom of Mysore in a war over the fate of Southern India. Tipu Sultan (1750-1799, reigned 1782-1799), the ruler of Mysore, had on his side a well trained force of musketmen and could prove a difficult opponent. Arthur and the 33rd first had to join the main force of the British at Madras. The campaign proper started in December, 1798 with a long trek from Madras to the borders of Mysore. A force of 10,000 men from Hyderabad joined the British in the campaign. Mornington decided to appoint Arthur as chief advisor to the leader of this allied force. Causing resentment among various British officers who felt the decision had more to do with nepotism than merit. Arthur largely silenced their complains with leading his troops to victory in the Battle of Mallavely (March 27, 1799).