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Wellesley was the fourth son of Garrett Wesley or Wellesley, 1st Earl of Mornington, and used the name Wesley until 1798. He was himself raised to the peerage as Viscount Wellington in 1809, followed by further ennoblements as Earl of Wellington 1812, Marquis of Wellington the same year, and Duke of Wellington in 1814.
His military career began at Angers Military Academy in 1784 and was initially undistinguished. In 1793 he became a lieutenant-colonel of the 33rd Foot and the outbreak of war with France gave him the opportunity to see active service. He led the regiment in campaigns in the Netherlands and India up to 1805, and also took governmental and administrative posts in India.
In 1807 he took an expedition to Denmark, and the following year commanded the British troops in the Peninsular War. He fought in Portugal, Spain and France, being raised to the rank of field marshal in 1813, before defeating Napoleon's army at Waterloo in Belgium on 18 June 1815. In 1827 he was made Commander-in-Chief of British forces, but resigned later that year for political reasons. He took the role again from 1842 until his death.
Wellington's other career as a statesman began with his election to Parliament as M.P. for Trim in 1790, a seat he held until 1795. He was elected to Rye in 1806, and was Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1807-1809.
After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Wellington took various ceremonial and governmental offices. From 1818 to 1827 he was master-general of the Ordinance with a seat in the Tory Cabinet. He became Prime Minister in 1828, and, despite his personal beliefs, steered through Catholic Emancipation. He resigned in 1830. He was deeply opposed to the Reform Bill proposed in 1831-1832.
Wellington became Foreign Secretary under Robert Peel from 1834-1835, leader of the Conservative opposition in the House of Lords from 1835-1841, and minister without portfolio in Peel's second government of 1841-1846. Wellington was afforded a state funeral on his death in 1852, which was said to have been witnessed by a million and a half people.