But the title that was given him a year before Waterloo lives on. It currently sits on the shoulders of the ninth duke, the inheritor also of the titles Prince of Waterloo, Duke of the Victory of the Kingdom of Portugal and Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo. He was born Earl of Mornington.
He went to Eton, married a Prussian princess (who knew there could be such a person, more than a century after the unification of Germany?) and had 10 years as a Tory MEP. The long list of company boards he’s sat on includes investment banks, insurance companies, tobacco firms Rothmans and Dunhill and the drinks company Pernod. First I’d heard of him was last week when he unveiled a memorial to his most famous ancestor’s most famous victory at the London railway station that bears its name.
The first Duke was still alive when Mrs Cecil Alexander wrote one of everyone’s favourite hymns, “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. If you know it, you may know the third verse. That’s the one which goes:
“The rich man in his castle,
“The poor man at his gate,
“God made them high and lowly,
“And ordered their estate.”
Hmm. Believe that if you will. My school hymnbook had an asterisk next to that ringing endorsement of inequality, giving permission for it to be “omitted”.
The ninth duke still lives at Stratfield Saye House, the stately home in Hampshire that was bought for his family in 1817 “by a grateful nation”. It’s not a castle in the fortified sense, but it’s certainly what the French would call a chateau. Very grand indeed.
These days the poor man is allowed past the gate – for a fee – to admire the building (well, parts of it), the grounds (ditto) and an exhibition devoted to the first duke’s grandeur.
Today’s Duke of Wellington, like all his eight predecessors, is the same sort of chap as the famed barons who – 800 years ago yesterday – forced King John to put his seal to the document that has gone down in history as Magna Carta.
The “big charter” is renowned as the original declaration of democracy, but it was never really that.
For one thing, the ancient Greeks had a truer democracy than anything Magna Carta laid down.
For another, it wasn’t about giving power to the people. Only about taking it away from the king and giving it to the rich landowners, who were hardly about to share it with the peasants and other workers.
There was a beautiful irony about the Queen taking part in Monday’s celebrations of the curtailing of royal power. A different kind of weirdness about a 13ft statue of her, in full royal regalia, being unveiled at Runnymede.
But perhaps the weirdest symbol of all of our clinging to the old codes is the honours system, which was wheeled out again at the weekend for its twice-yearly flag-wave. The Queen’s Birthday Honours List – though her actual birthday is in April.
Top of the list, at least as far as the media cared, were the knighthoods bestowed on singer Van Morrison, rugby-player Gareth Edwards and comedian Lenny Henry. They were among 30 new knights, most of whom you’ve never heard of and probably never will.
But what is a knight?
William Marshall, first Earl of Pembroke, whose name was at the very top of Magna Carta, is often considered to be the typical knight: a brilliant fighter on horseback, brave and powerful – and successful – in tournaments and on the battlefield; a man who raises an army to fight for the king; and sometimes gets to decide who’s going to be king.
I can just picture Van Morrison and Lenny Henry donning full metal armour and getting up on horseback to go jousting. My money’d be on Van the Man – until bold Sir Gareth entered the lists.
Among previous title recipients, imagine Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Paul McCartney riding into battle against the infidel hordes of the rebellious Middle East.
Tragic that John Lennon was snatched away before he could be offered a title. Would he have accepted? The man whose best known solo song includes the line “Imagine no possessions…”.
Most of the new knighthoods went of course, as ever, to top civil servants, bankers and businessmen. The sort of people who expect a K as the final rubberstamping of their career status.
One shocked headline at the weekend remarked on “A knighthood for services to the Tory party”, as if that was a surprise. Isn’t that what ennoblement has always been about – services to the ruling elite?
Other folk get lesser honours.
Like Will Pooley, the Suffolk nurse who went back to help Ebola sufferers in West Africa after recovering from the disease. To him an MBE – a patronising pat on the head for an ordinary Joe who did something extraordinary, something truly honourable.
All makes you proud to be British, doesn't it?