Horatio Viscount Nelson biography
Horatio Nelson is generally regarded as the greatest officer in the history of the Royal Navy. His reputation is based on a series of remarkable victories, culminating at the Battle of Trafalgar where he was killed in his moment of triumph. The poet Byron referred to him as ‘Britannia’s God of War’.
Horatio Nelson was son of the Reverend Edmund Nelson, Rector of Burnham Thorpe, in the County of Norfolk, and Catherine his wife, daughter of Doctor Suckling, Prebendary of Westminster, whose grandmother was sister to Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford. He was born September 29th 1758, in the Parsonage-house at Burnham Thorpe, was sent to the high school at Norwich, and afterwards removed to North Walsham. On the disturbance with Spain relative to the Falkland's Islands, he went to sea with his uncle Captain Maurice Suckling in the Raisonnable of 64 guns. The business with Spain being accommodated, he was sent in a West India ship with Mr John Rathbone, who had formerly been in the Navy, in the Dreadnought with Captain Suckling. He returned a practical Seaman, with a horror of the Royal Navy, and with a saying then constant with Seamen. 'After the most honour, forward the better man!' It was many weeks before he got in the least reconciled to a Man-of-war, so deep was the prejudice rooted. When the expedition towards the North Pole was fitted out in 1773 nothing could prevent his using every interest to go with Captain Skeffington Lutwidge in the Carcass. He begged he might be his coxswain, which finding his ardent desire for going with him, Captain L. complied with. On the 8th of April 1777, he passed his examination as a Lieutenant and received his commission next day as second Lieutenant of the Lowestoffe frigate of 32 guns, Captain William Locker. In this ship he went to the West Indies. On 20 October 1777, blowing a gale of wind and very heavy sea, the Lowestoffe captured an American privateer. The first Lieutenant was ordered to board her, which he did not do, owing to the very high sea. On his return on board the Captain said, 'Have I no Officer who can board the Prize?' On which the Master ran to the gangway, to get into the boat; when he stopped him saying, 'It is my turn now; and if I come back; it is yours. On the 11th of June 1779, he was made Post Captain into the Hinchinbroke, frigate. In 1781 he was involved in an action against the Spanish fortress of San Juan in Nicaragua.
A success, the efforts involved still damaged Nelson's health to the extent that he returned to England for more than a year. He eventually returned to active duty and was assigned to the Albemarle, in which he continued his efforts against the American rebels until the official end of the war in 1783. In 1784, Nelson was given command of the 28-gun Boreas, and assigned to enforce the Navigation act in the vicinity of Antigua. This was during the denouement of the American Revolution, and enforcement of the act was problematic -- now-foreign American vessels were no longer allowed to trade with British colonies in the Caribbean Sea, an unpopular rule with both the colonies and the Americans. After seizing four American vessels off Nevis, Nelson was sued by the captains of the ships for illegal seizure. As they were supported by the merchants of Nevis, Nelson was in peril of imprisonment and had to remain sequestered on Boreas for eight months. It took that long for the courts to deny the captains their pound of flesh, but in the interim Nelson met Fanny Nesbit, a widow native to Nevis, whom he would marry on March 11, 1787 at the end of his tour of duty in the Caribbean. They had no children.
Nelson lacked a commission starting in 1789, and lived on half pay for several years. But as the French Revolution began to export itself outside of France's borders, he was recalled to service. Given the 64-gun Agamemnon in 1793, he soon started a long series of battles and engagements that would seal his place in history. He was first assigned to the Mediterranean, based out of the Kingdom of Naples. In 1794 he was shot in the face during a joint operation at Calvi, Corsica, which cost him the sight in his right eye -- his left eye suffered from the additional burden, and Nelson was slowly going blind up until his death; he would often wear a patch over his good eye to protect it. In 1796, the command of the fleet in the Mediterranean passed to John Jervis, who tapped Nelson to be his commodore -- the captain of Jervis' flagship, Captain. 1797 was a full year for Nelson. On February 14, he was largely responsible for the British victory at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent (1797). The Battle of Cape St. Vincent was an important naval battle during the Wars of the French Revolution, between the British Royal Navy and the Spanish fleet, at Cape St. Vincent near Gibraltar on February 14, 1797. Battle of Cape St.
A Spanish fleet of between 23 and 27 ships left Cartagena, on the Mediterranean Sea, with the intention of sailing to Cadiz, and then on to Brest, France to join up with the French battle fleet. A strong gale had pushed them further out into the Atlantic Ocean than was intended, but the winds having died down they began working their way back to Cadiz. On February 11, Minerve, a ship captained by Horatio Nelson, came across the Spanish fleet as it was doing so, passing through them unseen thanks to heavy fog. Nelson reached the British squadron of 15 ships off Spain on February 13, and passed the location of the Spanish fleet to John Jervis, commanding the squadron from his flagship HMS Victory. Unaware of the size of his opponent's fleet -- in the fog, Nelson had not been able to count them -- Jervis' squadron immediately sailed to intercept. As dawn broke on the 14th, Jervis' ships were in position to engage the Spanish, and vice versa. It was at this point that Jervis discovered that he was outnumbered nearly two-to-one. It would have been difficult to disengage, however, and Jervis also decided that the situation would only get worse were the Spanish fleet to join up with the French, so he decided to continue on. To the British advantage the Spanish fleet was formed into two groups and unprepared for battle, while the British were already in line. Jervis ordered the British fleet to pass between the two groups, minimizing the fire they could put into him, while letting him fire in both directions simultaneously. Passing through the Spanish, the larger group managed to sail away in almost the opposite direction of the British line, and the smaller group was also in position to do so. Jervis ordered the line to swing around and go after the larger group before it could get away to Cadiz. Nelson had transferred to HMS Captain, and was towards the end of the line, much closer to the fleeing larger group. He came to the conclusion that the maneuver could not be completed so as to allow the British to catch them. Disregarding orders that the British line was to turn while engaging the smaller group, he broke formation before reaching that point, which let him turn and catch the larger Spanish group more quickly. This placed him across the front of the Spanish. Jervis, seeing what had happened with Captain then ordered the last ship in his line, Excellent, to perform essentially the same maneuver. In the meantime, the front of the British line had completed its maneuver, and were approaching a long cannon shot from the rear of the Spanish.
Captain was under fire from as many as six ships, all of which had more guns than she, and lost so much of her rigging that she was no longer of much use. As a result, Nelson maneuvered close enough to the Spanish San Josef to send out boarders instead. Meanwhile, Excellent had engaged San Nicolas, which became so tightly entangled with San Josef that Nelson was able to order his boarders to cross the first Spanish ship onto the second. Both were successfully captured. This maneuver was so unusual and, in future, so widely admired in the Royal Navy that using one enemy ship to cross to another became known as "Nelson's patent bridge for boarding enemy vessels". The Spanish managed to, finally, disengage after which the battle was over. Jervis crossed over to Irresistible -- to which Nelson had gone, Captain no longer being suitable -- and made a show of approving Nelson's disobeying orders. Had the maneuver not worked Nelson would surely have faced court-martial, but in the face of its success and Jervis' acknowledgement that Nelson was correct in his judgement that the British line could not have caught the Spanish, Nelson was later knighted and promoted to Rear-Admiral. As a result of the battle, the United Kingdom was assured of an unassailable position on the seas surrounding France and Spain for the remainder of the French Revolutionary Wars, though another check would be necessary later against Napoleonic France. In the aftermath, Nelson was knighted. In April of the same year he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue, the sixth highest rank in the Royal Navy. Later in the year, during an unsuccessful expedition to capture a treasure ship at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he was shot in the right elbow with a musketball. He lost the lower half of his arm, and was unfit for duty until mid-December. The next year, Nelson was once again responsible for a great victory over the French. The Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Abukir Bay) took place on August 1, 1798, and as a result, Napoleon's ambition to take the war to the British in India came to an end. The Battle of Abukir Bay
The Battle of the Nile also known as The Battle of Abukir Bay was an important naval battle of the Wars of the French Revolution between a British fleet commanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson and a French fleet under Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys D'Aigalliers. It took place on the evening and early morning of August 1 and August 2, 1798. French losses were as high as 1,700 dead (including Brueys) and 3,000 captured. British losses were 218 dead.
Napoleon Bonaparte intended to threaten the British position in India via the invasion and conquest of Egypt. About three weeks after his landing there, a British fleet of 14 ships under Horatio Nelson -- which had been scouring the eastern Mediterranean Sea looking for the French fleet -- finally came upon the 15 French ships being used to support the invasion. The first encounter was near sunset on August 1. The French were at anchor in Abukir Bay, in shallow water near a shoal less than four fathoms deep. The shoal was being used to protect the south-western port side of the fleet, while the starboard side faced the north-east and open sea. The French commander D'Aigalliers expected the battle to begin the next morning, as he did not believe the British would risk a night encounter in shallow, uncharted waters. Leisurely preparations began for combat. Admiral Nelson, however, decided that the French fleet were anchored too far from the shallows, and not only risked the battle, but actually ordered several of his ships to sail between the French and the shallow water, so that he could put more ships on the more conventional deeper side and fire upon the French from both sides. One British ship, the Culloden, ran aground, but the remainder were able to stay afloat and begin taking the French fleet apart one by one. As their targets were at anchor, Nelson was able to put several ships on to a target at a time, working his way down the line, while French ships further away were unable to join. Two French ships towards the end of the line, the Généreux and Guillaume Tell were able to escape, but all the remaining French ships were sunk or captured by the small hours of the next morning. The battle reiterated British naval pre-eminence during the Napoleonic Wars, and was an important contribution to the growing fame of Admiral Nelson, but curiously may be better known for literary reasons: Felicia D. Hemans' poem "Casabianca" (often known better by its first line, "The boy stood on the burning deck") is about the son of Vice-Admiral Brueys, who died in the explosion of the French flagship l'Orient during this battle. The forces Napoleon had brought to Egypt were stranded, and Napoleon himself had to be smuggled back to France. For his efforts, Nelson was granted the title of Baron. Not content to rest on his laurels, he then rescued the Neapolitan royal family from a French invasion in December. During this time, he fell in love with Emma Hamilton -- the young wife of the elderly British ambassador to Naples.
She became his mistress, returning to England to live openly with him, and eventually they had a daughter, Horatia. Some have suggested that a head wound he received at Abukir Bay was partially responsible for that conduct, and for the way he conducted the Neapolitan campaign, now considered something of a disgrace to his name. In 1799 he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red, the fifth highest rank in the Royal Navy. He was then assigned to the Foudroyant. In July, he aided with the reconquest of Naples, and was made Duke of Bronte by the Neapolitan king. His personal problems, and upper-level disappointment at his professional conduct caused him to be rotated back to England, but public knowledge of his affection for Lady Hamilton eventually induced the Admiralty to send him back to sea if only to get him away from her. On January 1, 1801, he was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue (the fourth highest rank). Within a few months he was involved in the Battle of Copenhagen (April 2, 1801), which nullified the fleet of the Danes, in order to break up the armed neutrality of Denmark, Sweden and Russia. The action was considered somewhat underhanded by some, and in fact Nelson had been ordered to cease the battle by his commander Sir Hyde Parker. In a famous incident, however, he claimed he could not see the signal flags conveying the order, pointedly raising his telescope to his blind eye. His action was approved in retrospect, and in May he became commander-in-chief in the Baltic Sea, and was awarded the title of Viscount by the British crown. Napoleon was amassing forces to invade England, however, and Nelson was soon placed in charge of defending the English Channel to prevent this. However, on October 22 an armistice was signed between the British and the French, and Nelson -- in poor health again -- retired to England where he stayed with his friends the Lord and Lady Hamilton. The Peace of Amiens was not to last long though, and Nelson soon returned to duty. He was appointed commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean, and assigned to the HMS Victory. He joined the blockade of Toulon, France, and would not again set foot on dry land for more than two years. After the French fleet slipped out of Toulon and headed for the West Indies, a stern chase failed to turn them up and Nelson's health forced him to retire to Merton in England. Within two months his ease ended. On September 13, 1805 he was called upon to oppose the French and Spanish fleets, which had managed to join up and take refuge in the harbour of Cadiz, Spain.
On October 21, 1805, Nelson engaged in his final battle, the Battle of Trafalgar. Napoleon Bonaparte had been massing forces once again for the invasion of the British Isles. On the 19th, the French and Spanish fleet left Cadiz, intent on clearing the Channel for this purpose. Nelson, with twenty-seven ships, engaged the thirty-three opposing ships. The Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) proved the most significant naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, and the pivotal naval battle of the 19th century. The British Royal Navy led by Horatio Nelson destroyed a combined French and Spanish fleet and in doing so guaranteed to the United Kingdom uncontested control of the world's oceans for more than 100 years. Because the British won the Battle of Trafalgar, they, not the French, would rule an expanded empire that included India, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, around the world and world economy with London, not Paris, as the pre-eminent financial seat of Europe. The Battle of Trafalgar
It was the year of 1805, the year when it seemed that at long last Napoleon would invade England, which, for twelve years, had stood in the path of the Grand Armée´s complete domination of Europe. It was the year when, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, Napoleon had suddenly convinced himself that his united fleet could annihilate any squadron which the English could put to sea to meet it. In 1805 under Napoleon, the French were masters of the European continent, the British still ruled the seas. The British, during the course of the war, managed to impose a fairly effective blockade on France. This blockade had the effect of keeping the French from fully mobilizing her own naval resources. So the French were unable to invade England although Britain could always land in France. Disgusted with this situation, Napoleon Bonaparte determined to sweep the Royal Navy from the seas, and issued orders for the French Navy to combine with forces from the Spanish Navy, (Napoleon ruled Spain), break the English blockade, then, escort an invasion force of some 350,000 French soldiers to the shores of England. Now, Napoleon had had has naval troubles with the British before. The French occupation of Egypt was ultimately undone when Nelson smashed the French Fleet off Alexandria. Were this all Nelson did, he would be still be regarded as a famous admiral, but his greatest day was yet to come. In August of 1805, he wrote to his admirals: „Come into the Channel. Bring our united fleet and England is ours.
If you are only here for 24 hours, all will be over, and six centuries of shame and insult will be avenged." It was an order, however, which his captains found impossible to obey. Although Napoleon had 2,000 ships and 90,000 men assembled along the coast of France, the British blockade of the French and Spanish harbours had virtually ammobilised this gigantic force. In desperation, Napoleon ordered his fleet at Cadiz to sail out and meet the enemy ships which sat quietly waiting on the green Atlantic swells at Cape Trafalgar, some 80 kilometres east of Cadiz. „His Majesty counts for nothing the loss of his ships," Napoleon’s message ended, „provided they are lost with glory." In response to this order, a Franco-Spanish fleet of 33, with 2,640 guns, commanded by Admiral Villeneuve, set out from Cadiz to engage the enemy. Massive though this force was compared to the force that awaited them, its destruction was an almost foregone conclusion from the very beginning. There were several reasons for the inevitable destruction of the Franco-Spanish fleet, not the least being that it was commanded by a man who was haunted by the memory of his humiliating defeat at the hands of a much smaller English force only three months earlier. A man, moreover, that even Napoleon had decided at the last moment was ill fitted for the task that had been entrusted to him. As Villeneuve was sailing out of Cadiz, a horseman was hastening down the Spanish Peninsula, carrying a message, informing Villeneuve that he was to hand over his command to Admiral Rosily. It would be wrong to assume that if the messenger had arrived in time to stop Villeneuve sailing, and the highly capable Admiral Rosily had been in command, the outcome of the Battle of Trafalgar might have been a different one. There were too many other factors weighed in the balance against the Franco-Spanish fleet for this to have happened. Like Villeneuve, the captains of the French and Spanish fleets were imbued with a sense of impending defeat before they had even encountered the enemy. And with good cause! Demoralised by a long period of inactivity, and with 1,700 sick men aboard their ships, the French sailed out of Cadiz knowing that only a miracle could give them a victory
This slatternly-looking admiral was, of course, Lord Nelson, who received the news with the utmost calmness. And why not? His battle plans had already been made and communicated to all his captains. Those plans, he was convinced would give him a swift victory.
Until the Battle of Trafalgar, the problem of how a fleet could gain an annihilating victory over the enemy was one that had never really been solved, and for want of a better tactic, it had been the custom for the fleets to sail into action in two parallel lines, with each ship taking on a single opponent, firing its guns broadside as it passed. Inevitably, the enemy would take an opposite tack, and the battle would then become a vastly prolonged affair, with the ships continually sailing on opposite tacks, or engaging on the same tack, until one of the fleets eventually retired. Nelson had decided to break completely with this tradition. His plan was to divide his fleet into two groups. One group would attack sections of the enemy line and destroy them before other ships could come to their aid. The other group would attack the enemy at right angles, break through their lines and then cut off the retreat of the enemy fleet. This aggressive piece of strategy, which was later referred to as the „Nelson Touch", was to change the whole course of naval warfare. The battle did not begin until the following day, by which time the enemy fleet was well in sight, off Cape Trafalgar. Nelson was on deck, now in a freshly laundered uniform and with new ribbons for all the medals on his breast. Shortly after, Nelson called for the signal officer. „Make the signal to bear down on the enemy in two lines," he ordered. He then went down to make his will, which was witnessed by Captain Hardy and Captain Blackwood who had come aboard from the Euryalus. Afterwards, Nelson went up to the poop and ordered that signal officer to hoist his celebrated signal: ENGLAND EXPECTS THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY. It has been said that this famous signal was to have been worded: „Nelson confides that every man will do his duty," and that his name was replaced by that of England at the suggestion of the signal officer, who pointed out that if the words „confides that" were used, they would have to be spelt out with a long string of flags. The word „expects" was substituted.
The first shot was fired at the English ship Royal Sovereign at noon. This salute of iron was received in silence by the Royal Sovereign, who waited until she had drawn astern of the Spanish three-decked, Santa Anna, then raked her decks with a murderous fire that killed or wounded 400 of her crew. In the meantime, Nelson´s ship was moving on, silent and intent, searching for the French admiral’s ship. Eventually, right in front of her, lay the huge Spanish four-decker, Santissima Trinidad. Guessing correctly that the French admiral’s ship must be nearby, Nelson bore down on her. As he did so, the Bucentaure, Villanueva’s ship, and seven or eight other enemy ships, opened fire on the Victory. Still she advanced without firing.
By the time she had come close enough to rake the Santissima Trinidad with her larboard guns, 50 of her men were dead and 30 wounded. It was at this point that the Victory came into collision with the French Redoubtable. Locked together, and wrapped in sheets of flame, the two ships drifted slowly through the smoke of battle. Gradually, although the fighting had continued unabated, the smoke cleared a little from the decks of the Victory, enough for the marksmen to see the epaulets of the English officers. A marksman kneeling in the mizzen-top aimed his musket at Nelson. On the quarterdeck of the Victory, Captain Hardy had turned to leave Nelson´s side to give an order when Nelson fell, mortally wounded. Immediately, Hardy, a sergeant of the marines and two privates, rushed forward to lift him up. Nelson was then carried down to the cockpit, where he ordered that his face should be covered with a handkerchief so that he might not be recognized. In the meantime, the Redoubtable´s top marksmen had shot down 40 officers and men, destroying so many that the French, seeing the upper deck clear of all but dead or wounded, tried to board her. It was an enterprise, which was to cost them dear. A boatswain’s whistle piped, „Boarders; repel Boarders", and the order immediately summoned swarms of smoke-begrimed blue-jackets to the deck, where they killed every man who had managed to board the Victory. Below decks, Nelson´s life was now ebbing away fast. But he was still alive when Hardy returned from the fighting above to inform him that fourteen enemy vessels had given in. „That’s well," Nelson said, „but I had bargained for twenty." He lingered on for a little while longer. After murmuring some inarticulate words, he said distinctly, „I have done my duty. I thank God for it!" The first stage of the battle, with the Victory leading a frontal attack, while the rest of Nelson´s fleet attacks at right angles to break through the lines of the enemy ships, and thus cut off their retreat. This tactic was in complete variance with all the accepted rules of naval warfare. The raking manoeuvre employed with great success by the British ships. When attacking the enemy line, a British vessel would steer for a gap between enemy vessels. After brilliant seamanship had gained the British ship an advantageous position, a broadside was fired at one enemy vessel before sailing in front of it to unleash yet another broadside into the stern of the next ship in the line. Yet another broadside was then delivered to that crippled vessel from the other side.
The last stage of the battle, with the French and English ships engaged in a general melée. By then 25 French ships were already out of action and trying to make for Cadiz.
The Victory was then towed to Gibraltar, with Nelson's body on board preserved in a barrel of brandy. Upon his body's arrival in London, Nelson was given a state funeral and entombment in St. Paul's Cathedral. According to legend, the rum ration used to preserve his body was given to naval men and came to be known as "Nelson's Blood", a possibly deliberate echo of the Communion ritual. Above, beneath the setting sun, his fleet was lying in two groups with the shattered hulks of the enemy ships all around them. The British losses had been heavy; 449 killed and 1,241 wounded. But of the 27 ships of the British fleet, not one had been sunk or captured. Trafalgar was the decisive battle of the Napoleonic Wars. It had always been essential to Napoleon’s master plan to control the world that he should have command of the seas. With his Allied fleet now ruined as a fighting force the dream had been destroyed forever. Trafalgar, moreover, established England’s supremacy at sea for nearly a century and a half, during which time her navy remained the bedrock on which her control of the far-flung British Empire rested through the age of steam and into the 20th century. Nelson would go down a hero, and the most famous square in England, Trafalgar Square, would be named for the victory. Without France to challenge her -- Germany was not yet unified, and Russia was no naval power -- England would rule the World's oceans for 100 years.
Nelson was noted for his considerable ability to inspire and bring out the best in his men, to the point that it gained a name: "The Nelson Touch". Famous even while alive, after his death he was lionized like almost no other military figure in British history (his only peers are the Duke of Marlborough and Nelson's contemporary, the Duke of Wellington). The monumental Nelson's Column and the surrounding Trafalgar Square are notable locations in London to this day, and Nelson was buried in St. Pauls Cathedral. The Victory is in existence, and is in fact still kept on active commission in honour of Nelson -- it is the flagship of the Second Sea Lord; she can be found in Number 2 Dry Dock of the Portsmouth Naval Base, in Portsmouth, England.