Admiral Lord Nelson
Welcome to my Lord Nelson link page. I've gathered links to all the Nelson sites on the Web that I'm aware of, and lovingly dedicate this page to the Immortal Memory. May we never forget that others have died that we may live.
Who was Lord Nelson?
Every year on October 21, England commemorates Trafalgar Day. One cannot use the term "celebrates," for although this holiday does commemorate one of the greatest victories at sea, it also memorializes the death of England's most beloved admiral. In the years that have passed since the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 his reputation has not been surpassed, but rather has grown as the admirals of other navies have looked to his life for inspiration and tactical instruction. Although many admirals have been compared to him, none has ever been set above him. Even Raymond Ames Spruance, who won an overwhelming victory over a superior Japanese force at Midway and went on to win many other great battles of World War II in the Pacific, can never take better than second place to this extraordinary man.
Horatio Nelson was born on September 29, 1758, to Catherine (Suckling) Nelson, the wife of Edmund Nelson, rector of Burnham Thorpe, in the county of Norfolk. He was a sickly child from the start and grew up small and slender. His mother died on Boxing Day in 1767, when young Horatio was only nine years old.When the Falklands Crisis of 1770 arose, young Horatio saw this as an opportunity to contribute his effort to the problem and asked his older brother William to write a letter to their father asking him to have their uncle Maurice Suckling take him to sea.
Captain Suckling was dubious about this idea, but he agreed and Horatio entered the Navy on January 1, 1771. At the time he was only twelve years old, but this was common. Horatio's introduction to the Navy was singularly unpromising, for when he arrived at Chatham he was unable to find his ship and no one would direct him to it. The slender young boy wandered about the docks until someone finally took pity on him and delivered him to the Raisonnable, but his uncle (who was the ship's captain) was not aboard and would not arrive for days. Thus he spent several nights alone before his uncle finally arrived and welcomed him to the service.
In spite of this less than promising beginning, the young Nelson stuck it out and worked his way up the ranks. At the age of twenty he "made post," achieving the rank of captain. Always a romantic, the young Nelson was quick to fall in love with pretty young women, although his friends were able to warn him off the more unsuitable ones. But near the end of his duty as captain of HMS Boreas , he met a young widow by the name of Fanny Nisbet. Still trying to get over his hopeless passion for the beautiful Mary Montray and captivated by Fanny's little boy Josiah, he failed to notice that this woman was a total mismatch for his personality. However his marriage to her seemed to be happy enough for the next several years, mostly because he had nothing else to compare his marriage to, and because he was unhappily beached.
Only after the French Revolution did his efforts to gain a new sea command finally pay off, and he entered the phase of his life that would make him famous. However it also cost him dearly. While doing joint operations with the army ashore at Calvi he was wounded in the face, costing him the sight of his right eye (although the eye itself was not disfigured, contrary to popular belief). Shortly after his dramatic success at the Battle of St. Vincent he undertook an ambitious plan to capture a treasure ship supposedly anchored at Santa Cruz de Teneriffe in the Canary Islands. This ill-conceived and tactically meaningless campaign concluded with him badly wounded while storming the mole of Santa Cruz, his right arm so badly mangled that it could not be saved.
Any other admiral might well have hauled down his flag for good and retired ashore. However Nelson only took long enough to recover from his wounds before he got himself assigned a new flagship, H. M. S. Vanguard and was back to the Med. Here he chased the French fleet to Egypt and crushed them in the Battle of the Nile. Although it was a far larger victory than had ever been won before, he was not the area CinC, so the government saw fit to give him only the lowest title of nobility and he became Baron Nelson of the Nile.
In the course of the battle he was wounded in the head, which apparently caused him some minimal brain damage. Certainly his personality was unsettled and he was uniquely vulnerable to the temptations that he would find as he put in at Naples. There he would meet the beautiful Emma, Lady Hamilton. Recognizing the limitations of a one-armed admiral, she made herself indispensable to him through dozens of small assistances. She quickly discovered how susceptable he was to flattery and fed that. Soon he was hopelessly her captive, to the point that he came to actively detest his lawful wife.
All his Neapolitan campaigns went disastrously wrong and in time he was relieved of command. Instead of going straight home to England, he accompanied the Hamiltons through Germany, thus growing constantly closer and closer to his new mistress. By the time he got home, scandal had preceeded him. After a few disgusting scenes, the Admiralty decided that the only thing to do was to get him off to sea and away from Lady Hamilton.
His new command, in the Baltic and under the command of the utterly imagination-free Sir Hyde Parker, was not exactly his idea of an ideal posting. But he dutifully raised his flag and set himself to work planning to deal with the problem of the Northern Alliance. This was the Battle of Copenhagen, in which he created naval history. Midway through the battle Sir Hyde lost his nerve and sent out the recall signal. Nelson, knowing that this was no time to flee, put his blind eye to good use by putting his telescope to it and saying, "I really don't see the signal." Sticking out the fight, he crushed the Danish fleet. Subsequently he was made a viscount, the title he would take with him to his death.
After a brief stint of duty patrolling the English Channel, Nelson was permitted to go into a pleasant retirement which he fully believed to be permanent. He then joined Lady Hamilton, purchasing for her an estate at Merton, just outside of London. Together with elderly Sir William Hamilton, he and Emma enjoyed two of the happiest years in their lives, marred only by the fact that they could not make their relationship legitimate and thus provide for their daughter Horatia. Even when old Sir William died, there remained the matter of Fanny, and all of Emma's behind-the-scenes manipulations could not drive her to her grave.
Not long after Sir William's death, the political climate changed. Lord Nelson received orders to hoist his flag aboard H. M. S. Victory and patrol the Medeteranian, containing the French fleet at Tulon. He would remain aboard that ship for all but a month of the rest of his life. For the next two years he did not once stir himself from his flagship, although it wandered many nautical miles in its patrols. In a day before modern accomodation ladders it was simply too much work for a one- armed admiral to come and go, so he let everyone else come to him.
In August of 1805, sick with weariness after a fruitless chase to the West Indes and back, Nelson applied for and received a leave of absence. Immediately he went to Merton to join his beloved Lady Hamilton. But that leave would be cut short after problems in the fleet led the Admiralty to call him back. Although he misliked going to sea so quickly, duty was too much a part of his personality for him to refuse.
There is something of the cosmic in the unfolding of that last month as he proceeded toward the final battle. Even almost two hundred years after the fact, a well-written account of how Lord Nelson went into the Battle of Trafalgar can bring tears to a reader's eyes. Even as he was winning his greatest victory ever, he was struck down by a sniper's bullet. He lingered on in great agony for several hours, long enough to know that he had won a victory grander than he'd ever won before. However he would not live to reap its glory, which would go to his unworthy brother William. The true line, represented by his daughter Horatia, would be tormented by privation and obscurity while others would bask in the radiance of his legacy.
Links to Lord Nelson Sites
I have assembled a bibliography of books on Nelson.
Visit The Nelson Room for books on Nelson and the Napoleonic Wars. There is both fiction and non-fiction here. Find out which of CS Forester's Hornblower books features a cameo appearance by Captain Hardy. Learn where Jack Aubrey of Patrick O'Brian's wildly popular Aubrey/Maturin series met Nelson, and what the admiral told him about maneuvers.
A number of the surrounding counties of England have also gone together with Norfolk to put together a very large and impressive site, England Expects -- Nelson.
Another excellent site is maintained by a commercial CD-Rom producer, Anglia Multimedia. This is actually a Web sampler of one of their CD-Roms, Admiral Horatio Nelson
The navy yard at Portsmouth has a page dedicated to HMS Victory, his final flagship, which is permanently berthed there and now serves as the flagship of the base commandant.
Broadside is a site dedicated to the Royal Navy in the time of the Napoleonic Wars. It includes a sizeable amount of information on Nelson.
The Historical Maritime Society has more information on Nelson's navy.
There is also a site on The Battle of St. Vincent, where Nelson had his first brush with fame.
The Maritime History and Naval Heritage Homepage has a section of essays on Nelson.
You may also want to take a look at my own academic paper, Lord Nelson and Sea Power.
I also found a nice set of essays about his historical significance, written by a modern admirer.
Perhaps you have heard the sailors' expression of "tapping the admiral" for getting an unauthorized drink. According to legend, when Lord Nelson's body was brought back to England in a cask of spirits of wine, the liquid was found to be low. Supposedly the sailors were sneaking in to raid it, hence the expression. However this writer argues that the legend is completely misunderstood and that the story was conceived not out of spite, but out of love that transforms the whole legend into a strange parallel with the Eucharist . However one wonders why the writer failed to notice an even more powerful parallel -- the slang term "Nelson's blood" for rum would come not from a mistaken idea that his body was preserved in rum, but that the sailors' daily ration was a way of communing with their beloved admiral.
In his own lifetime Lord Nelson was the butt of vicious political cartoons attacking his relationship with Lady Hamilton. And here's a modern jokester who decides that the admiral still needs to be cut down a notch or two, with "Lord Nelson(Off. to prudes, and perhaps Nelson)."
There are also many more tidbits at sites not specifically dedicated to Nelson himself. At a military history site I found a small collection of his letters. Of course these are but a tiny sampling of the vast number of letters he wrote in his lifetime. Those that were saved fill eight volumes, and doubtless many more were thrown away by their recipients or otherwise lost. But even the few examples I found online illuminate some part of his character. As a historian, I recognize the importance of primary source materials such as these.
American Memory has a picture of him contemplating his plans just before the Battle of Trafalgar. Although this portrait wasn't done from life, the artist clearly knew his subject well enough to portray him properly. Like all the other contemporanous portraits, it puts to rest the false notion of his wearing a patch to hide his blind eye. (Anyone who'd studied his letters would have known how relieved he was at Calvi because his appearance would not be marred). Because it cannot be linked directly, use their search system to ask for "Horatio Nelson"
The Royal Naval Museum Trading Company has a wide selection of Nelson memorabilia available for purchase.
Here is a site dedicated to Nelson's opposite number on land, The Duke of Wellington
Last updated January 9, 2014