He was born into aristocracy and had his sights set on playing music rather than playing at soldiers.

But when young Arthur Wellesley was growing up little did he know that he was to become general and defeat one of Europe’s greatest military leaders.

Born in 1769, Arthur Wellesley was born in Dublin to the Earl and Countess of Mornington.

The Iron Duke's mother dismissed her rather withdrawn fourth son as "ugly Arthur" but he would go to be hailed as a national hero.

Fatherless at an early age, and neglected by his mother, he was a reserved, withdrawn child.

When he was 15 Arthur was taken away from his unhappy life or failure at Eton with his mother complaining: "I vow to God I don't know what I shall do with my awkward son."

In the end she sent him to a French riding school which turned him into “one of the most cosmopolitan of Englishmen”, and where signs of brilliance overlooked at home were first detected.

Wishing to pursue his love of music it was only on his mother’s wishes that he joined a Highland regiment.

In some ways the youth of Wellington was similar to that of a young Corsican who too was destined for greatness.

Born in Corsica in the same year as Wellington, Napoleon was born to a relatively modest family of noble Italian ancestry.

Unlike Wellesley, Napoleon only ever wanted to be part of the military and was accepted to the elite Ecole Militaire in Paris.

It was to be the start of a career in which he would become ruler of France and her empire.

From its outset in 1789, Napoleon supported the French Revolution and would rise to prominence in the bloody chaos which followed it.

He would win campaigns for France in Italy, Egypt and lead the French in victories across Europe.

Eventually he would proclaim himself emperor but his undoing would be when he took on the Duke of Wellington who had also excelled in his military career.

Wellesley fought at Flanders in 1794, and directed the campaign in India in 1796. Knighted for his efforts, he returned to England in 1805.

He would marry his sweetheart Kitty Pakenham and was elected MP for Rye in 1806.

Within a year he was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland by the Duke of Portland.

He continued with his military career despite his parliamentary duties, and became commander of the British Army in the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal.

After those victories he was given the title Duke of Wellington in 1814.

But the peak of Wellington's military career came after Napoleon’s escape from Elba in 1815 where he had been in exile.

At Waterloo the two great generals both commanded armies that courageously fought under their inspiration.

Wellington’s veterans had learned much from the five years they had served under him in the Peninsular, and Napoleon had learnt nothing from those campaigns.

“Never did I see such a pounding match,” said the Duke. “Napoleon did not manoeuvre at all. He just moved off in the old style, in columns, and was driven off in the old style.”

Wellington seemed to be everywhere on the battlefield and his officers had a notion that while he was visible nothing could go wrong.

However, in the Duke of Wellington brought a revulsion from the slaughter of war. “I hope to God I have fought my last battle,” he said.

When he returned to Britain he was treated as a hero, formally honoured, and presented with both an estate in Hampshire at Stratfield Saye and a fortune of £400,000.

From the time he was commissioned as ensign in 1787 until the withdrawal of the army of occupation from France in 1818, Wellington spent most of his life abroad.

It was only after the Napoleonic wars that he was able to get to know his own country well.

But it could not be said that he ever settled down on his Hampshire estate. He was far too busy, as Commander-in-Chief, as Prime Minister, and, when he had ceased to lead the Tories, as Cabinet Minister. In his extreme old age he organised the defence of London against the Chartists.

And besides these high responsibilities, he held many smaller offices, including the Lord Lieutenancy of Hampshire, the duties of which he discharged with as much attention to detail as characterised his conduct of a campaign.

Faced with these duties the Duke found happiness and solace in the Hampshire countryside.

After years serving in diplomatic roles the Duke of Wellington finally became Prime Minister in 1828.

One of his first achievements was overseeing Catholic emancipation in 1829, the granting of almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom.

But for the majority of his political career he was very conservative; known for his measures to repress reform.

His opposition to reform caused his popularity to plummet to such an extent that crowds gathered to throw missiles at his London home, Apsley House.

After defeat in the Commons, the duke resigned, although he continued to fight reform in opposition.

He eventually became Foreign Secretary and later Leader of the House of Lords but retired from politics in 1846.

In 1848 he organised a military force to protect London against possible Chartist revolutionary violence at Kennington Common.

His old soldiers were ever in his thoughts. He kept a supply of sovereigns in his waistcoat pocket in case he met a man who had served under him.

Many veterans visited him at Stratfield Saye and according to a member of staff "the Duke was very good to them, would talk to them and give them dinner and money."

Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, died in September 1852 after a series of seizures. He was 83.

After lying in state in London, he was buried at St Paul’s Cathedral.

His long, crowded life linked two sharply contrasting worlds: the world of 18th century England, aristocratic, cultured and slow-moving, and that Early Victorian world of railway trains and steamships, reform, expansion and experiment, with which the old hero never really came to terms.