Horatio Nelson 1st Viscount. Duke of Bronte

1758-1805. He was born on 29 September 1758, the third surviving son of Edmund Nelson, rector of Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk, and of his wife, Catherine Suckling. He was the nephew of Captain Maurice Suckling, who became the Comptroller of the Navy.

After a brief education in Norwich Nelson entered the navy in November 1770 as a midshipman aboard the Raisonnable 64, commanded by his uncle Maurice Suckling, moving with his kinsman to the guardship Triumph 74 at Chatham, and then undertaking a voyage to the West Indies aboard a merchantman. He rejoined the Triumph in July 1772 before sailing as coxswain to Captain Skeffington Lutwidge of the bomb ketch Carcass in Hon. Constantine Phipps’ voyage to the Arctic Ocean in the early summer of the following year. The expedition returned to England during October with Nelson having earned an early reputation for bravery by attempting to club a polar bear.

Almost immediately he was appointed to the East-Indies bound frigate Seahorse 24, Captain George Farmer, sharing the midshipman’s berth with the future admirals Thomas Troubridge and Thomas Bertie. After two years of varied service he returned to England during the summer of 1776 in ill health aboard the Dolphin 20, Captain James Pigott. Wasting little time, he joined the Worcester 64, Captain Mark Robinson, bound for Gibraltar at the beginning of October as an acting-lieutenant.

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The young Captain Horatio Nelson

On 10 April 1777, and with the patronage of his uncle the comptroller of the navy, he was commissioned lieutenant and joined the Lowestoft 32, Captain William Locker, which vessel was fitting out for Jamaica. After a happy time amongst the islands off Hispaniola in command of the frigate’s tender, the Little Lucy, Nelson was removed to the Bristol 50, flagship of the commander-in-chief, Rear-Admiral Sir Peter Parker, in September 1778.

On 8 December 1778 he was appointed to command the brig Badger 14 with which he patrolled the Bay of Honduras, and he rescued the crew of the Glasgow 20, Captain Thomas Lloyd, when she caught fire in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on 1 June 1779.

Nelson was posted captain with his promotion to the ex-French merchantman Hinchingbroke 28 on 11 June 1779, and he soon earned a small amount of prize-money after being sent on a cruise. In January 1780 he commanded the naval forces in a combined and hazardous mission up the river at San Juan towards Lake Nicaragua in Central America. Many of his men lost their lives to a fever in the unsuccessful operation, but fortunately for Nelson he was recalled to Jamaica with his appointment to the Janus 44 in succession to the late Captain Bonovier Glover who had died of natural causes during an action with the French on 20/21 March. However, being too ill to take up this position, Nelson returned to England with Captain Hon. William Cornwallis aboard the Lion 64, this officer nursing him through his severe sickness.

After a year’s convalescence, some of which was spent at Bath, Nelson was appointed to the Albemarle 28 in August 1781, seeing duty in the North Sea and the Baltic convoys that October before going out to Newfoundland with a convoy under the command of Captain Thomas Pringle in the following April. The Albemarle was another ex-French merchantman but of poor sailing ability, proving only adequate when before the wind. A profitless cruise ensued before he joined Rear-Admiral Lord Hood’s fleet at New York in November, with which he sailed to the Leeward Islands shortly afterwards. In the spring of 1783 he led an assault on the French-held Turk’s Island, but in a poorly thought-out and hasty attack he was easily beaten off, resulting in one officer accusing him of wanton ambition and vanity. He returned to England in June following the cessation of hostilities and the Albemarle was paid off on 3 July.

In October 1783 Nelson accompanied Captain James Macnamara to France, and they lived at St. Omer until the following January. On returning to England he was appointed to the frigate Boreas 28 in March and was despatched to the Leeward Islands two months later. Here he quickly enraged the merchants of St. Kitts by enforcing the punitive navigation laws against the American trade, and soon he was the recipient of writs and found himself under the threat of arrest for detaining five ships. Unable to venture ashore, and unsupported by his commander-in-chief, Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Hughes who had complicity turned a blind eye to the situation, Nelson had to watch in amazement as his superior firstly refused to fund his defence and then accepted the thanks of the Treasury for enforcing the act. Nelson also fell out with Hughes over his refusal to accept the illegal installation of Commissioner John Moutray as temporary commander-in-chief at Antigua in the rear-admiral’s absence, and he later received a rebuke from the Admiralty for ordering that Moutray’s broad pennant be removed from the frigate Latona 38 rather than referring the matter to them for adjudication.

During this unhappy period he made a fool of himself over his feelings for Moutray’s young wife, and he did little to endear himself to the crew of the Boreas, being regarded as overly strict. At least his posting gave him the opportunity to forge a lifelong friendship with another young officer on the station, Cuthbert Collingwood, whilst on 12 March 1787 he married Frances Nisbet, a widow from the West Indian island of Nevis, who was given away by Nelson’s friend Prince William. At the end of May the Boreas was ordered back to England, and she was paid off at the Nore in December after a short period as a receiving ship in the event of a possible war with France.

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Lady Nelson

Whilst on half-pay for the next six years, Nelson lived with his wife and father in Norfolk. His failure to secure an appointment was apparently due to the King’s distrust of his friendship with Prince William, although undoubtedly his behaviour towards the American merchants had also alienated many amongst the high and mighty. Clearly he was out of favour, as illustrated by his omission from the otherwise almost universal call up of officers during the Nookta Sound dispute of 1790.

On 30 January 1793, following the outbreak of hostilities with Revolutionary France, he was appointed to the Agamemnon 64, and after going out to the Mediterranean in May he participated in the occupation of Toulon from 27 August. On 22 October he fell in with four French frigates, almost taking one, the Melpomene 40, before the damage to the Agamemnon obliged him to discontinue the action. He subsequently joined a squadron under the command of Commodore Robert Linzee on a visit to the Bey of Tunis, although the hoped-for detention of a French 80-gun vessel at that port did not materialise.

It was whilst leading the victorious naval force at Bastia and Calvi in the Corsican campaign of February – August 1794 that Nelson lost the sight of his right eye to grit and sand thrown up by an enemy shell blast on 12 July. He played a prominent role in Vice-Admiral Sir William Hotham’s battle with the French on 13-14 March 1795, the Agamemnon forcing the surrender of both the Ca Ira 80 and Censeur 74, and suffering casualties of thirteen men wounded, but he could not hide his disappointment at what he considered to be the admiral’s lamentable performance in failing to force a victory. He was then sent with a small squadron consisting of two frigates, a sloop and a cutter to assist the Austrian army at Vado, and he fought in Hotham’s second indecisive action with the French on 13 July 1795 after their fleet had fallen in with his small squadron off the Riviera and chased it back to the British base.

Ordered to hoist a broad pennant on 15 July, two days after Hotham’s indecisive encounter, Nelson was placed in command of the Agamemnon and eight frigates off Genoa in support of the Austrians. He soon found himself undermined by Hotham and was only happy when Admiral Sir John Jervis gave him the support he needed following his arrival as the new commander-in-chief. Indeed Jervis quickly recognised the value of his new subordinate and in January 1796 offered him the captaincy of either the St. George 98 or Zealous 74, although Nelson preferred to stay with the Agamemnon.

On 11 June 1796 he exchanged with the invalided Captain John Samuel Smith of the Captain 74, and with Ralph Miller as his flag captain from August he continued to command the inshore squadron in the Gulf of Genoa. Upon the French overrunning Italy Nelson was directed to arrange the evacuation of the bases at Corsica and at Elba. With his flag in the Minerve 38, Captain George Cockburn, and for three weeks in September and October the Diadem 64, Captain George Towry, he achieved this task by refusing to submit to Corsican threats and provocation, and by occupying Porto Ferrajo despite Rear-Admiral Robert Man’s defection from the Mediterranean in October.

On 20 December 1796 the Minerve fell in with the Spanish frigates Santa Sabina 40 and Ceres 40, and she brilliantly captured both of them with the assistance of the Blanche 32, Captain d’Arcy Preston. Unfortunately four more Spanish ships including two of 74 guns gave chase, and it was only due to the sacrifice of Lieutenant Thomas Masterman Hardy, who as prize-master of the Santa Sabina used her as a decoy and was re-taken, that the Minerve was able to escape. After visiting Porto Ferrajo and Gibraltar the Minerve sailed through the Spanish fleet off Cadiz on the night of 11 February before re-joining the Mediterranean fleet on 13 February, whereupon Nelson repaired on board the Captain.

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Nelson receives the surrender of the San Josef at the Battle of St. Vincent

On the following day, 14 February 1797, occurred the Battle of St. Vincent, in which Nelson would really make his name. Admiral Jervis’ attack initially divided the undisciplined but vastly superior Spanish fleet in two, but when it appeared that the enemy van would pass astern of the British line and rejoin its consorts Nelson, on his own initiative, brought the Captain out of the line and blocked its path. In this bold manoeuvre he was ably assisted by the British van, and on Jervis’ orders by Captain Cuthbert Collingwood of the Excellent 74, which vessel also came out of the line of battle. Nelson personally led the boarding parties in the capture of two Spanish ships which surrendered with little resistance, these being the San Josef 112 and the San Nicolas 80. However he subsequently suffered the ridicule of some contemporaries for his elaboration of his part in the victory, with Rear-Admiral Sir William Parker in particular claiming that he and the captain of the fleet, Captain Sir Robert Calder, had not been given the credit they deserved. Even so, the Captain suffered twenty-three men killed and fifty-four wounded in the action, which casualties were by far the highest in the fleet, and such was the damage to his ship that Nelson was obliged to temporarily transfer his broad pennant to the Irresistible 74, Captain George Martin.

Nelson was promoted rear-admiral on 20 February in accordance with his seniority, and as a reward for his brilliant part in the Battle of St. Vincent he was created a Knight of the Bath. Apart a brief visit to Elba from 12 April to 24 May, he remained in command of the inshore squadron blockading Cadiz for the next few months, and in the early summer he moved to the mutinous Theseus 74, an ex-Channel fleet ship, to which he and Captain Miller soon restored order. Several attempts to lure the Spanish out of Cadiz resulted in mere skirmishes only, but they did much to enhance his reputation for activity and daring. Between 3-10 July he orchestrated a number of attacks, and on one occasion his barge with thirteen men took on thirty Spaniards, all of whom were killed or wounded, with Nelson only avoiding a desperate wound when his coxswain prevented a sword thrust with his hand.

From 21-25 July, and in command of four sail of the line, three frigates and a cutter, Nelson was responsible for a poorly conducted and unsuccessful attempt to surprise and capture a treasure galleon at Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands. To compound his failure the disastrously one-sided finale saw him badly wounded in the right elbow, and only the amputation of the arm saved his life. He returned to England aboard the Seahorse 38 with Captain Thomas Fremantle on 1 September and joined his wife in Bath. Only after a long painful healing process was he able to return to the Mediterranean fleet in the spring of the following year, hoisting his flag aboard the Vanguard 74, Captain Edward Berry, at Spithead on 29 March.

Within two days of his arrival on 29 April, and much to the fury of his fellow admirals, Nelson was sent in to the Mediterranean with the Vanguard, two other ships of the line, and four frigates to investigate the intentions of the French fleet that was fitting out at Toulon. On 20 May the Vanguard was overtaken by a violent storm and she was only saved by the exertions of Captain Alexander Ball’s Alexander 74, and by Nelson usurping Berry in his role as the ship’s captain. After equipping her with a jury-rig at St. Pietro, Sardinia, Nelson eventually arrived off Toulon on 31 May to discover that the French had departed eleven days previously with General Napoleon Buonaparte’s Army of Egypt. In the meantime, on 24 May, Lord St. Vincent had detached Captain Thomas Troubridge with ten ships of the line and a fifty-gun vessel to assist Nelson, and once the two forces combined there ensued a desperately fraught two-month chase around the Mediterranean as Nelson sought out the French expedition.

He eventually found it at Aboukir Bay, Egypt, and it was here that he fought the Battle of the Nile on 1 August. The French were anchored in battle formation close inshore when Nelson approached during the early evening hours, but he launched an immediate attack in the confidence that his captains were aware of his intentions. Six of his ships passed to leeward or inshore of the enemy and the British were able to pick off the enemy piecemeal. During the engagement the French commander-in-chief, Admiral Franois Paul Brueys, was killed when the magazine on his flagship, Orient 120, blew up, and by the end of the engagement all but two of the thirteen French ships had been destroyed or captured, and Nelson had earned an unparalleled victory.

His astonishing success was at the cost of a wound over his eye which had forced him from the deck and was to incapacitate him for several months thereafter. The injury was softened however by his elevation to the peerage as Baron Nelson of the Nile and Burnham Thorpe, and by awards from Russia, Turkey and the East India Company. In addition he received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament, a two thousand guinea pension, and more curiously a coffin constructed from the timbers of Orient from the colourful Captain Benjamin Hallowell. Many, including Admiral Lord Hood, felt that he should have been awarded a viscountcy, but there was no precedence for an officer who was not a commander-in-chief receiving such an elevation.

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Lady Emma Hamilton

On 22 September Nelson arrived at Naples with the Vanguard, which was now commanded by Thomas Masterman Hardy in the absence of Berry who had been sent home with despatches. With him were the Culloden 74, Captain Thomas Troubridge, and the Alexander 74, Captain Alexander Ball. At the Neapolitan Court he rejoiced in the adulation of Emma, Lady Hamilton and her husband, the British ambassador, as well as the King and Queen of the Two Sicilies. He was soon ordered to assist the Neapolitans in their alliance with the Austrians, although he took a month out in October to supervise the siege of Malta before returning to bolster the efforts of his friends.

Much against his own government’s policy, Nelson persuaded the Neapolitan King to march against the French even though they had shown no inclination of attacking his kingdom, and he was rewarded by being a spectator as the rag-bag royal army ran away from their vastly inferior enemy. On 21 December the British and Royals were evacuated to Palermo, and thereafter Nelson could do little more than order a blockade of the coast as the French moved into Naples. Over the next few months, and as Nelson remained with the court at Palermo, it became apparent that the French and their Neapolitan Jacobin allies were incapable of maintaining a hold over Naples, and the royalist leader, Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo decided to seek an armistice. This move was contrary to the instructions of his King, but nevertheless he saw the treaty through and had it ratified by Captain Edward Foote of the British Navy who was in command of the blockade of the city.

On 24 June, Nelson, now flying his flag aboard the Foudroyant 80, Captain Thomas Hardy, returned to the Bay of Naples and in demanding the enemy’s surrender immediately annulled the armistice. A great number of Jacobins who had given up their arms in accordance with the treaty were executed as traitors, as was Commodore Prince Francesco Caracciolo, who Nelson, in his role as commander-in-chief of the Neapolitan navy, hastily court-martialled and executed the same afternoon on board the Neapolitan frigate Minerva. Amongst many others, Charles James Fox and Robert Southey publicly deplored Nelson’s conduct when it became known in Britain, and Captain Foote would later feel obliged to produce a lengthy vindication of his own part in the affair.

Nelson was awarded the title of Duke of Brontë by the grateful Neapolitan king, but increasingly he became the subject of much criticism for his philandering with Lady Hamilton, and for pandering to the whims of the vengeful Neapolitan queen in order to further enhance his relationship with the ambassador’s wife. Further opprobrium fell on Nelson’s head when he flagrantly disobeyed instructions from the new commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Lord Keith, to join him at Port Mahon following the breakout of the Brest fleet on 25 April 1799. His flimsy reasoning was that Naples was at greater risk than the British base at Minorca, and having failed to convince Keith, who he bitterly resented, he wrote to the Admiralty explaining his behaviour. In return he eventually received a cold note of disapproval. Meanwhile Keith commented that it was Lady Hamilton, not Nelson, who was effectively in command of his ships.

Nelson finally detached some of his force to Keith but despite the urgings of his friends he himself remained with the Neapolitans, and when Keith chased the Brest fleet into the Atlantic, Nelson only made a short foray to Port Mahon. Unsurprisingly the Admiralty ordered Keith to return to the Mediterranean, signalling that they considered Nelson unworthy of the chief command even on a temporary basis. Typically his failure to fulfil his duties in this period did not prevent Nelson venting his wrath on the ‘Swedish Knight’, Captain Sir William Sidney Smith, who had been given an independent command in Nelson’s sphere of influence.

In January 1800 he was finally prised away to join Keith at Leghorn, and the fleet was soon stationed off Malta to prevent any French attempt to raise the blockade. In the previous autumn Nelson had been rejoined by his flag-captain Sir Edward Berry after his recovery from illness, and on 18 February his squadron captured the Nile Généreux 74, with Nelson once more usurping Berry’s captaincy in a time of crisis. However, within six days he was moaning about his health again and Keith was forced to let him retire once more to Palermo, despite the entreaties of his friend Captain Thomas Troubridge, who was fully aware of the reasons for his return to Lady Hamilton and the court. Following Nelson’s departure, his squadron took the final escapee from the Nile, the Guillaume Tell 80 on 31 March off Malta.

His time in the Mediterranean was about to come to an end however, for soon Nelson received a letter from the first lord of the admiralty, Lord Spencer, stating that he were better to come home rather than remain ‘inactive in a foreign court, while active service was proceeding elsewhere on his station.’ At Palermo he began despatching his usual melodramatic letters, and on 9 May was finally granted permission to leave the station, either across Europe, or if permitted by Lord Keith, by ship. Not surprisingly the uncompromising Scot wasted little time in advising Nelson that it was impossible to release any ships. Contrary to Keith’s instructions he nevertheless conveyed the Neapolitan Queen to Leghorn on 17 July, taking passage on the Alexander 74, Lieutenant William Harrington, and with the Hamiltons in company he then travelled home through Vienna, Prague, Dresden and Hamburg, arriving at Yarmouth on 6 November.

At once he proclaimed himself fit to serve, presumably in order to avoid his wife from whom he soon parted. His matrimonial behaviour became the subject of condemnation by London Society, with the King himself displaying his disgust by turning his back on Nelson at a levee. At this time most of the establishment regarded him as a silly little man whose career was almost certainly over, and the celebrated Gillray even ridiculed him in cartoon.

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Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson sporting the Turkish chelengk in his hat

After being promoted vice-admiral in accordance with seniority on 1 January 1801, he was appointed second-in-command to Admiral the Earl St. Vincent in the Channel and he left London for Devon on 13 January. Typically he broke his journey at Honiton to pay his respects to the mother of the late Captain George Westcott, and to present her with his own Nile medal as her son’s had failed to arrive. Nevertheless he was still decorated with enough medals and ribbons to earn the ridicule of St. Vincent whom he met at his winter residence at Torre Abbey. On 17 January he hoisted his flag aboard the San Josef 114, Captain Thomas Hardy, this being one of the two ships which he had boarded at the Battle of St. Vincent four years earlier.

In February he transferred to the St. George 90, retaining Hardy as his flag-captain, and a month later sailed from Yarmouth as second-in-command to Admiral Hyde Parker in an expedition against the Baltic powers to end the Armed Neutrality, either by diplomatic means or by force. That he was not given the chief command was largely due to the official disapproval of his conduct in Naples. After a number of disagreements between the two senior officers Nelson was given the opportunity to attack the Danish fleet below the batteries of Copenhagen harbour, and during the height of a ferocious battle on 2 April, for which he had removed to the Elephant 74, Captain Thomas Foley, he was signalled to discontinue the action by Parker. Nelson theatrically put his telescope to his blind eye and announced to Foley that he could not read the signal, however, the implied disobedience of orders was somewhat nullified when Parker despatched Captain Robert Otway in a boat with instructions for Nelson to ignore the signal if he thought fit. In other words, Parker was gamely providing Nelson with the excuse to withdraw should his position become untenable. After a fierce engagement lasting four and a half hours, the Danes were defeated and obliged to accept a truce. Nelson would be rewarded for his victory by being created a viscount on 18 May.

Following Parker’s recall, and despite his own preference to go home, Nelson assumed the role of commander-in-chief in the Baltic, and on 5 May he set off to fulfil his intention of confronting the Russians. Upon arrival in the Gulf of Finland he found a new, less hostile Czar in power and he accepted the request to take away the previously impounded British vessels and leave in peace. Typically his health deteriorated at the lack of action and with his yearning to go home to Lady Hamilton and their newly born daughter Horatia. He was therefore allowed to return to England, departing the fleet on 19 June, and he arrived at Yarmouth aboard the brig Kite 16, Commander Stephen Digby, on 1 July.
Despite his victory Nelson’s reputation in society was still poor, and when he rose to make a long rambling speech in the House of Lords to honour Rear-Admiral Sir James Saumarez’ victory at the Battle of Algeciras he received scant respect. When it came to his professional abilities it was a different matter, and on 27 July public opinion caused him to hoist his flag at Sheerness aboard the frigate Unite 38, Captain Thomas Harvey, in command of the coastal defence flotilla, shifting it later to the Amazon 38, Captain William Parker, and in August to the Medusa 32, Captain John Gore. He was ordered to launch an attack on Boulonge where it was believed many invasion craft were stationed, and although he realised that this was a probable exaggeration of the true position he nevertheless attacked over 15 and 16 August. Coming upon some fifty boats chained together, his force managed to board them under enemy fire, but so hot was the resistance that they were obliged to take flight before achieving their task of setting fire to the craft, having suffered many casualties.

Somewhat against his wishes Nelson remained in command of the coastal defence flotilla until the peace, whereupon he retired to his new house at Merton with Sir William and Lady Hamilton. Ignoring the letters of his wife who pleaded for a reconciliation, he set off on a tour of Wales and the Midlands with the Hamiltons during July 1802. After his return to London he provided a character reference in support of the traitor, Colonel Edward Despard, who was on trial for his life in November, and both Nelson and Lady Hamilton were attendant at her husband’s death on 6 April 1803.

A month later, on 16 May, hostilities resumed with the French, and within two days Nelson was leaving town to raise his flag as the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean fleet, his designated flagship being the Victory 100, Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy, and with Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton as his second-in-command. Unfortunately, his intention of employing Captain Thomas Foley as his captain of the fleet was negated by this officer’s illness. Taking passage aboard the Amphion 32 with Captain Hardy because the Victory was not ready for sea, he joined Bickerton and the fleet off Toulon on 8 July.

For the next two years he remained in loose blockade of Toulon and faced only brief sallies by the French fleet from May to August 1804. Initially he was in opposition to an old and outrageously self-trumpeting enemy, Vice-Admiral René Madeleine Latouche-Treville, and then after this officer’s death on 18 August 1804 his direct counterpart was Vice-Admiral Pierre Villeneuve. During this period Nelson fell out with Vice-Admiral Sir John Orde who had been given command of a squadron blockading Cadiz, and not only took the opportunity to second any of Nelson’s frigates which ventured onto his patch, but also enjoyed the most profitable portion of the Mediterranean command in terms of prize-money. Such was the rancour between the two that on 1 January 1805 Nelson even went so far as to instruct one of his frigate commanders, Captain William Parker of the Amazon 38, to avoid contact with Orde.

In January 1805 the French fleet did come out, but they returned to port within three days before Nelson with eleven sail of the line could intercept them. On 29 March the French broke out once more, and after they had collected their Spanish allies they were able to muster eighteen ships of the line. Nelson, who had been ill and had received permission to return home, initially cruised between Sardinia and Africa before positioning himself off Sicily to await intelligence of their course. When he found that the allied fleet had sailed for the West Indies he followed them, but in a fruitless pursuit that was horribly reminiscent of his search for the Nile fleet seven years earlier he failed to find them there, largely because of false intelligence. He returned to join Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood off Cadiz before touching at Gibraltar on 20 July, and then upon hearing that the Franco/Spanish fleet had been on a more northerly course he sailed to join Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis at Brest. There ensued a short leave at home with Lady Hamilton at Merton, and having been mobbed wherever he went he embarked once more for Cadiz from Portsmouth on 14 September. Nelson appeared to know that he would never return to England, and the dignity he displayed in his final days in the country did much to outweigh that which he had lost in the previous few years. He looked in robust health, he was cheerful, and he bravely accepted his destiny.

Sailing to Cadiz to re-assume command of the Mediterranean fleet, he joined Collingwood on the evening of 28 September and immediately tightened the blockade of the allied fleet which had sought refuge in that port. He then shared his plans for the attack on the enemy, should they dare to come out, and this they started to do, to his delight, on 19 October.

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Nelson is mortally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar

Two days later, on 21 October, he fought the Battle of Trafalgar where his twenty-seven ships opposed the enemy’ thirty-three. After donning his best uniform and decorations, and re-arranging his will in favour of Lady Hamilton, he led the assault on the allied fleet in the Victory with a refusal to compromise his personal safety. As ever his tactics were bold, perhaps even rash, with an angular approach that left his ships at the mercy of the enemy’s raking fire before they could pass through their line. Just over an hour into the battle he was shot by a French sniper and carried below, and here he died at about half-past four, the bullet lodged in his back having penetrated his lungs and spine. To the end Nelson displayed immense leadership, as demonstrated whilst being carried below when he ordered one of the midshipmen to attend to a parted tiller rope. He was the first British admiral to die in battle for a hundred and thirteen years and his death was seen as a huge cost for the monumental victory he had won.

Nelson’s body was carried in a cask of spirits aboard the Victory to Greenwich, and he was buried with great pomp and ceremony in Hallowell’s coffin during a sustained period of national mourning at St. Paul’s Cathedral on 9 January 1806.

Nelson had no issue by his wife, Frances Nisbet, but had a daughter Horatia by his mistress, Lady Hamilton in addition to another daughter, Emma, who died in infancy in 1804. Following his death his brother was nominated an earl in his stead, and at the age of 71 married the 28 year-old widowed daughter of Admiral Sir Robert Barlow in a vain attempt to produce an heir. Prior to his relationship with Lady Hamilton Nelson enjoyed a public liaison with an opera singer from Leghorn, Adelaide Correglia, much to the disdain of his fellow officers. He was related by marriage to Captain Sir William Bolton, whilst his early and rapid rise in the navy was due to the patronage of his uncle, Captain Suckling, who was the comptroller of the navy, and whose own son fought with Nelson at the Battle of St Vincent and at Santa Cruz. Nelson subsequently used his own seniority to advance the career of his inadequate and immature stepson, Josiah Nesbit.

He was of normal stature for his time, being 5ft 6” tall, but bore little dignity, spoke with a nasal tone and a broad Norfolk accent, could not take wine to any great degree, was prone to foul language, was boastful, humourless and vain, and had a strong feminine side. The Duke of Wellington met him two months before his death and commented on how one-sided, silly and vain the conversation had been until Nelson had discovered the person of his interlocutor, whereupon he had suddenly become interesting and sensible. He could be moody, melodramatic and shrewish and was quite deserving of the outrageous Lady Hamilton, her tantrums, and her devotion to glory. Whilst being generally restless and of a fiery nature, in periods of inactivity he became a severe hypochondriac and suffered from seasickness, depression and every ailment he could name. Tradition notwithstanding, he only ever wore a shade over his left eye against the glare of the Mediterranean sun, and indeed recent commentators have suggested that he claimed loss of sight in his right eye in order to seek a pension from the government. The pension was never paid, as it was claimed that he could see with both eyes.

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A popular cartoon by James Gillray depicting Nelson slaying the Nile crocodiles – not all cartoons were so flattering.

Whilst in London with a fat Lady Hamilton on his arm, he often paraded his stars, medals, and his unique award from Turkey, a chelengk. During the years before his death he was loved and loathed in equal measure, the love coming mostly from the populace due to his heroics, the loathing mostly from the establishment because of his affair with Lady Hamilton. Cartoonists and caricaturists ridiculed his relationship with Emma without mercy, and members of the aristocracy such as Lady Spencer, the wife of the first lord of the Admiralty, shunned him. Ballads and poems were written about him, paintings and prints bearing his image and deeds were popular, as were crockery and fans and caps jewellery and head-gear. Even so, following his death favourable biographies lauding Lady Hamilton and their relationship were criticised.

A brilliant tactician, courageous, intrepid, enterprising and resourceful, he brought the best out of others and inspired both subordinate officers and the men with his loyalty, trust and love. Although he was never rich he was generous, and duty meant as much to him as money. When one of his most promising officers, Commander Edward Parker, was killed, Nelson paid his funeral expenses in full. He was reputed to be a keen and tireless administrator and a religious man, being known as ‘the bible admiral’ through his practice of requesting that bibles and prayer books be furnished to his ships.

Nelson demanded praise and had an insatiable lust for glory and honours, such that following the Battle of St. Vincent Saumarez was moved to call him ‘our desperate commodore’. He hated authority and never hesitated to ignore or usurp it, preferring to follow his instincts; nevertheless, the flexibility he allowed his subordinates with his own orders highlighted his consistency. He was always a difficult junior officer, and similarly did not hesitate to interfere with matters that were the responsibility of his flag-captains, yet with his midshipman he could be boyish. His early death raised him to the status of a hero, and rescued him from what would have been a ridiculed old age in the company of an ever-increasing Lady Hamilton. His hatred of the French was as legendary as his devotion to his friends, but for the Spanish he had a little more time for. Such was his reputation with his enemies that Napoleon kept a bust of him on his mantelpiece.

Following the Battle of the Nile he vigorously pursued the claims of his friend Sir Thomas Troubridge for honours, even though that officer’s ship had been grounded during the battle, yet the brilliant conduct of his second-in-command, Captain Sir James Saumarez, with whom he could not gain an affinity, was not even mentioned in his despatches. Typically he later fell out with his beloved Troubridge. He was a great friend and ally of Admiral Lord St. Vincent, yet in the early nineteenth century was involved in a bitter lawsuit with his old chief over prize-money. He was also a lifelong friend of Admiral Hon. Sir William Cornwallis and of Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood.

Politically Nelson was a supporter of the Whigs, although he had backed Pitt in the 1780’s, was to strongly support Henry Addington during his brief period of office from 1801-4, and was later to be reconciled to Pitt with whom he spent many hours on his brief return to England in 1805. He was an advocate of the slave trade and delighted in the defeat of Abolitionist campaigns in the 1790’s, describing William Wilbeforce as having a ‘damnable doctrine’ and his allies of being ‘hypocrites’ who threatened the existence of Britain’s most prized possessions, the West Indies. His speeches in parliament were generally ridiculed, naive, and much regretted by his friends.

During the 1790’s Nelson lived at 141 Bond Street. His servant from 1780 to 1795 was Frank Lepée, but after dismissing him for his habitual drunkenness he replaced him with Tom Allen, who remained in his service until 1802.