The Duke of Connaught

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert held the 1st Duke of Wellington in great regard. When their third son was born on 1st May 1850, the Duke’s eighty-first birthday, he was named Arthur in the Duke’s honour, and the old man became his godfather. The 1851 painting The First of May, in the Royal Collection, shows the Duke giving a birthday present to the infant prince. A copy was commissioned for Wellington College in 1945 and hangs in Waterloo Hall.  

‘The First of May’ by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (image courtesy of Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023)

Prince Arthur’s first public engagement was when, aged six, he accompanied his parents and siblings as his mother laid the foundation stone of Wellington College. He was also present at the College’s official opening in 1859, and the first Speech Day the following year.  

The Prince developed an interest in the military and had a long and distinguished career as an Army officer. Made Duke of Connaught in 1874, he became a Governor of Wellington the following year, and from then on was a regular visitor, often presenting the prizes for the Athletic Sports events.  

When his elder brother became King Edward VII in 1901, the Duke took his place as President of the College, a position he held for the next forty years. During this time he attended twenty-five Speech Days and became a much-loved figure. His letters to Bertram Pollock, the third Master, show his interest in many aspects of school life, from demand for student places to rugby matches. He was a great supporter of the Rifle Corps (now the CCF) and always enjoyed inspecting its parades. 

Addressing the school for the last time in 1938, the Duke spoke of ‘the deep interest and affection that I have for Wellington College.’ Even when too infirm to attend the prizegiving, he would still visit on the afternoon of Speech Day to watch cricket and other sports. His last visit was in 1941, at the age of 91. His death the following year marked the end of an era: a living link with the College’s foundation and the Great Duke.  

Prince Arthur with his mother the Queen at the College’s foundation stone ceremony 
Wellington College’s portrait of the Duke of Connaught as young man 
HRH the Duke of Connaught, by Moussa Ayoub 
The Duke of Connaught and Wellington’s Master R P Longden at Speech Day, 1940