Arthur Valerian Wellesley

8th Duke of Wellington

born July 2nd 1915

died December 31st 2014

Arthur Valerian Wellesley, who has died aged 99, was the 8th Duke of Wellington, also known as the Prince of Waterloo.

His ancestor the first duke of Wellington - whose statue in Glasgow's city centre is routinely, and famously, crowned with a traffic cone - won the Battle of Waterloo.

The death of the current Duke comes just six months short of the 200th anniversary of that battle in which the British army defeated Napoleon under the leadership of the 1st Duke of Wellington.

Before his death, the duke spoke of the importance of marking the victory, which took place in what is now Belgium, but was then the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

He had hoped to be present for the commemorations of the battle and a service of remembrance at St Paul's Cathedral in June. In a message posted on the Waterloo 200 website, he said: "I am often asked whether we should not now, in these days of European unity, forget Waterloo and the battles of the past.

"My reply is, history cannot be forgotten and we need to be reminded of the bravery of the thousands of men from many nations who fought and died in a few hours on June 18 1815 and why their gallantry and sacrifice ensured peace in Europe for 50 years."

Arthur Valerian Wellesley was himself a decorated soldier, who would later strenuously defend his inherited title and privileges, while also guarding his family's place in history.

He was born in Rome, 100 years after his great great grandfather's defeat of the the French.

His parents were Lord Gerald Wellesley, who was later to become the 7th Duke of Wellington, and Dottie Ashton, a poet and publisher. They separated when 'Val ' was seven.

His early life was laid out for him. Sent to Eton, he was a member of the shooting team, and on leaving although he wanted to join the army, his father insisted he go to Oxford to read History and Languages first. He was a member of the notorious Bullingdon club, and failed his final exams, partly due to an active social life.

Commissioned into the Royal Horse Guards, he was sent to Tulkarm in Plestine in 1940, before joining an advance into Iraq. He received the Military Cross in 1941 for "exceptionally gallant" conduct. He was, his citation stated,"a magnificent example to all ranks of his squadron."

He took part in the battle of Alamein, without injury but was reportedly wounded later by an exploding tea urn.

A later escape came after he met Diana McConnel on a posting to Jerusalem. They were quickly engaged, but just before they were married, in January 1943, a bomb plot was foiled. The device, outside the Anglican Cathedral, had been due to go off on the day of their wedding.

Further military service saw him serving as commanding officer of the Blues in Cyprus, and leading the Royal Armoured Corps in Germany. He also served as military attache in Madrid and retired in 1968 having attained the rank of brigadier.

He became concerned with the running of the family estates, which had deteriorated, and sold large portions of lands at Silchester, near Reading and Somerset, as well as paintings and domestic items. Papers belonging to the 1st Duke were sent to Southampton University. He also opened up the 17th Century house and estate Stratfield Saye to the public.

He was active in the house of Lords and opposed cuts to the armed forces, while resisting taxation and changes to property laws which might have compromised his family's interests.

He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1990 and his foreign honours included appointments as Officer of the Légion d'honneur, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael of the Wing of Portugal and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Isabel La Catolica of Spain.

Sir Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College, set up in honour of the 1st Duke of Wellington, paid tribute to the 8th duke and said he was "one of the finest people I have known in my life".

He said: "He personified service, hard work, dignity and enthusiasm. Right until his final month he was full of zest and curiosity about everything that the young people were achieving at Wellington College."

His wife Diana predeceased him in 2010. He has four sons, the eldest of whom Charles, Marquess of Duoro is a former MEP who will inherit the peerages.