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Contents Preface to Revised Edition

Foreword by David Brown

Map of Nelson’s Europe



Chapter :

Nelson and Sea Power



Chapter :

Guns, Ships and Battle Tactics



Chapter :

Cape St Vincent and The Nile



Chapter :

The Battle of Copenhagen



Chapter :

The Battle of Trafalgar



Epilogue



Further Reading



Abbreviations



Notes



Index




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Chapter 

Nelson and Sea Power ICE ADMIRAL Horatio Lord Nelson was a hero from the time of his first great victory at the battle of the Nile in . He was mobbed wherever he went, and showered with titles and orders of chivalry by the powerful, presentation swords by his brother officers, and gifts of money by Parliament and the East India Company. He is probably the only admiral whose name is known to the general public, and not only in Britain. Hero status was richly deserved and arduously earned. He was, and continues to be, honoured by the Royal Navy because he was a master of his profession. He set the highest standards for performance, and his consummate leadership transformed the way the profession went about its business. In , in justification for the receipt of a pension, he wrote

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That, during the present war, your Memorialist has been in four actions with the fleets of the enemy, viz. on the th and th of March ; on the th July ; and on the th of February ; in three actions with frigates; in six engagements against batteries; in ten actions in boats employed in cutting out of harbours; in destroying vessels, and in taking three towns. Your Memorialist has also served on shore with the army four months, and commanded the batteries at the sieges of Bastia and Calvi. That during the war, he has assisted at the capture of seven sail of the line, six frigates, four corvettes, and eleven privateers of different sizes; and taken and destroyed near fifty sail of merchant vessels; and your Memorialist has actually been engaged against the enemy upwards of ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY TIMES. In which service your Memorialist has lost his right eye and arm, and been severely wounded and bruised in his body. All of which services and wounds your Memorialist must humbly submit to your Majesty’s most gracious consideration.1




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Chapter 

Guns, Ships and Battle Tactics ELSON’S THREE great battles, the Nile, Copenhagen, and Trafalgar, were almost the last acts of an era of naval warfare which had begun  years before when sailing vessels equipped with heavy cannon took the place of oar-propelled galley fleets as the dominant tactical force at sea. In  the fate of the western Mediterranean had been decided when a coalition of galley fleets organised by the Papacy defeated a similar fleet of the Ottoman Porte at the battle of Lepanto. Seventeen years later, in , Philip II of Spain’s attempt to invade England with an Armada of great sailing ships armed with cannon was defeated by an English fleet of sailing ships. Not only did this signal the triumph of one weapon system over another at sea; the marriage of sail propulsion and massed artillery made possible the ascendancy of the Atlantic seaboard states of Europe, first over the Mediterranean, and then over much of the rest of the world. The fleets that Nelson commanded, and the tactics he employed, had developed gradually since the sixteenth century. Fleet tactics of the sailing era were necessarily complicated because sailing warships were more limited in their tactical mobility than had been the galley fleets of earlier years, or the steam navies that eventually replaced them. The powerful combination of sail and cannon was the only weapon system ever developed which could only deploy its weapons at right angles to its line of advance. It was their strategic qualities, their capacity to sail half way around the world without touching shore for supplies for their relatively small crews, and their ability to mount a great battery of guns, that caused them largely to take the place of galleys as the primary instrument of sea power. The traumatic social consequences of the French Revolution at the end of that period inspired Nelson with a determination to push his force to the limit so as to totally annihilate the enemy, and made it possible for him to employ tactics which were themselves revolutionary.

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


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Nelson’s Battles

The Ship of the Line The basis of naval tactics must always be the principal weapon available to the admiral. The capabilities and limitations of the smooth-bore cannon had a powerful direct effect on the way he had to go about his business, and also an indirect effect because it was a major determinant in the design of warships, the abilities of which also profoundly affected the admiral’s art. Nelson’s genius most particularly lay in his leadership of men, but he was also a master of ship handling and gunnery. The heaviest guns in general ship-board use in the late eighteenth century were smooth-bore muzzle-loading cannon capable of firing a pdr shot. The gun itself weighed over ,lbs and was mounted on a truck carriage with four wheels (or trucks) so that it could recoil when fired. A heavy rope fastened to ringbolts at each end and passed round the breech of the gun, where it was secured by passing through an eye, or breech ring, above the cascabel, was used to limit the recoil, and a pair of tackles were used by the -man crew to run the gun up to the gunport for firing. The gun was elevated by a wedge, or quoin, placed under the butt, which needed to be hove into position by men employing handspikes. Handspikes were also used to lift the gun carriage across the deck to aim it to the right or left through the port. The gun was loaded by ramming a flannel bag of black gunpowder down the barrel, followed by a spherical iron ball and a wad to keep it in place. For close action, it was the practice to load two, or even three, balls for the first discharge. Once engaged, however, the confusion of action made it necessary to stick to the simplest possible routine to reduce the risk of accidents. In order to fire, an awl was driven down through the touch hole breaking a hole in the charge bag, and a goose quill filled with fine gunpowder was inserted. By the end of the century the actual firing would be done by a flintlock, which was triggered by a long cord. The gun having been run out by its crew, it would be fired by the gun captain. The spark from the flint would flash down the firing quill and ignite the propellant, which would drive the shot out the barrel. After recoiling, the gun would then be sponged out to ensure there was no lingering scrap of the powder bag that might prematurely ignite the next change, and then it would be reloaded. Because of limitations to the milling of the barrel and the imprecision of casting shot a ⁄ in ‘windage’ was necessary between the diameter of the ball and that of the barrel. As a consequence, anything up to half the force of the charge was wasted by blowing past the shot, and the shot was likely to fly off at a slight angle to the direction the gun was pointing. 


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Guns, Ships and Battle Tactics Lighter pdr guns were used on the middle and pdr on the upper gun decks, but they had considerably less penetrating ability. Even lighter guns like pdrs were used as chase guns, and on smaller warships. In the s lightweight low calibre carronades were introduced into the fleet. Using a smaller charge, these guns could fire the same weight of shot but to a shorter range. Their milling was more accurate, so that the windage allowed was about half of that of the long guns. They were usually provided with a slide mounting, instead of a truck carriage, and recoiled along a bed on the mount. Because their weight was only ,lbs it was possible for a crew to run them forward without wheels. The mounting itself had wheels, but these were arranged to make it easier to train the gun. Elevation was usually controlled by a screw rather than by quoins.

This beautiful drawing of a Danish -pounder shows the precautions that had to be taken to secure the gun carriage so that it would not break free in a seaway. (Rigsarkivet, Copenhagen)

Initially, the guns had been of most importance in providing merchantmen with an adequate defence. Only gradually during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did their value as offensive weapons become clear. They did so only when it was learnt how to use the massed firepower of hundreds of guns together, by concentrating the guns in powerful batteries along the sides of increasingly long ships, and by learning how to manage the firepower of fleets of such ships. When cannon were first mounted on sailing vessels, the heaviest guns, like those of the galleys, were the chase guns firing over the bow. This arrangement enabled 


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Chapter 

Copenhagen HE BATTLE of Copenhagen was the central act of a naval raid on the largest scale against the states of the Baltic region, whose ostensible neutrality was increasingly shifting to a pro-French position. It was ordered by the British Government because of the vital necessity of preserving the capacity of the Royal Navy to defend Britain against invasion, and to influence affairs on the continent. Nelson’s victory at the Nile had been the culmination of a classic campaign to contain French potential for power projection across the sea. In contrast, Copenhagen was operationally a British offensive, especially when seen from the point of view of the Baltic states. In strategic terms, however, the operation was essentially defensive because it was needed to preserve access to the naval matériel upon which Britain depended for survival, and the legal regime at sea which made British sea power a means of confronting Bonapartism. British interpretation of the law of naval warfare permitted interception of neutral ships carrying contraband, and enemy-owned property. Neutral states naturally wished to be free to profit from wartime prices and freight. London was determined not to let the Baltic situation get out of hand again as it had in the war against the American revolution. Every means had to be tried to stop the flow of naval stores to French and Spanish dockyards, and to ensure that the Royal dockyards were supplied. No less important was the need to ensure that British trade remained profitable. In January  there had been a clash with a Swedish convoy, and in December , when a Danish frigate tried to prevent the search of a Danish convoy, shots were fired. A more serious skirmish occurred in July  when a Danish frigate and her convoy were captured after a violent exchange.1 The Danish minister Count Bernstorff protested vigorously, and appealed to the mad Tsar Paul for support. London’s response was to send a fleet under Admiral Dickson to the Sound to support a mission to Copenhagen by

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


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Nelson’s Battles Lord Whitworth. This armed diplomacy, the occasion in which Home Popham first experimented with his naval telegraph, was successful in the short term, but it was only a curtain raiser for the greater drama at Copenhagen in . In August  Tsar Paul formally proposed to Prussia, Denmark and Sweden that they jointly resist attempts by belligerents to blockade Baltic trade. When he learnt about the British squadron sent to the Baltic, Paul seized all British property in Russia. He soon released it, but renewed his orders, despite the treaty he had concluded with Britain at the formation of the Second Coalition which provided security to British nationals, when he found that London would not assist his ambitions for Russia to become a Mediterranean power. Tsar Paul had been elected Grand Master of the Knights of St John after their defeat by Napoleon, and he imagined that the defeat of the French garrison of Valletta citadel would lead to his securing Valletta harbour for the Russian navy. Although valuing Russia’s capacity to dominate eastern Europe, and Russian naval and military forces which were being encouraged to play useful roles in the Italian theatre, London had no wish to have Britain’s position as naval arbiter prejudiced by the Russian navy acquiring a permanent base in the Mediterranean. There was also a real possibility that Malta in Tsar Paul’s hands would be open to the French navy. Paul had come under Napoleon’s influence, and was anything but a reliable ally. On  December  Sweden and Russia signed a convention undertaking to stop trade in contraband, and to prevent interference with any other trade. Contraband was narrowly defined as guns, ammunition and military hardware. Naval stores were not included, but Tsar Paul’s shift from an anti- to a pro-French policy was so pronounced that he rigorously embargoed the shipping of naval stores and grain to Britain. Napoleon responded to the embargo Paul placed on British ships in Russian ports by ordering French warships to stop operating against Russian merchantmen. He declared that the French Republic was already at peace with Russia. Paul sent a plenipotentiary to Paris, and was drawn into Napoleon’s plans against Britain. He urged Napoleon to put pressure on Portugal and the United States to join the League, and in early  occupied Lübeck and Hamburg, closing the Elbe to British trade. The League was ostensibly directed against the exercise of power by any belligerent, but Britain had most to lose because of her strategic dependence on naval power, and because it was only the French and Spanish navies which would benefit from free trade in naval stores. Napoleon encouraged the reappearance of the League, which if nothing else could be counted on to divide the coalition of 


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Nelson’s Battles Lord Whitworth. This armed diplomacy, the occasion in which Home Popham first experimented with his naval telegraph, was successful in the short term, but it was only a curtain raiser for the greater drama at Copenhagen in . In August  Tsar Paul formally proposed to Prussia, Denmark and Sweden that they jointly resist attempts by belligerents to blockade Baltic trade. When he learnt about the British squadron sent to the Baltic, Paul seized all British property in Russia. He soon released it, but renewed his orders, despite the treaty he had concluded with Britain at the formation of the Second Coalition which provided security to British nationals, when he found that London would not assist his ambitions for Russia to become a Mediterranean power. Tsar Paul had been elected Grand Master of the Knights of St John after their defeat by Napoleon, and he imagined that the defeat of the French garrison of Valletta citadel would lead to his securing Valletta harbour for the Russian navy. Although valuing Russia’s capacity to dominate eastern Europe, and Russian naval and military forces which were being encouraged to play useful roles in the Italian theatre, London had no wish to have Britain’s position as naval arbiter prejudiced by the Russian navy acquiring a permanent base in the Mediterranean. There was also a real possibility that Malta in Tsar Paul’s hands would be open to the French navy. Paul had come under Napoleon’s influence, and was anything but a reliable ally. On  December  Sweden and Russia signed a convention undertaking to stop trade in contraband, and to prevent interference with any other trade. Contraband was narrowly defined as guns, ammunition and military hardware. Naval stores were not included, but Tsar Paul’s shift from an anti- to a pro-French policy was so pronounced that he rigorously embargoed the shipping of naval stores and grain to Britain. Napoleon responded to the embargo Paul placed on British ships in Russian ports by ordering French warships to stop operating against Russian merchantmen. He declared that the French Republic was already at peace with Russia. Paul sent a plenipotentiary to Paris, and was drawn into Napoleon’s plans against Britain. He urged Napoleon to put pressure on Portugal and the United States to join the League, and in early  occupied Lübeck and Hamburg, closing the Elbe to British trade. The League was ostensibly directed against the exercise of power by any belligerent, but Britain had most to lose because of her strategic dependence on naval power, and because it was only the French and Spanish navies which would benefit from free trade in naval stores. Napoleon encouraged the reappearance of the League, which if nothing else could be counted on to divide the coalition of 


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Nelson’s Battles began to prepare a fleet for Baltic service, and instructions were sent to British admirals and governors throughout the world to seize any ships belonging to Russia, Denmark or Sweden.6 Rear Admiral Duckworth in the West Indies was ordered to capture all the Danish and Swedish islands. A further complication occurred when King George III refused to agree to the emancipation of the Catholics as part of the Union with Ireland, and William Pitt resigned as prime minister. Henry Addington was asked to take his place, which he eventually did in March , after two months of confusion because of the King’s illness. His first move as prospective prime minister, reasonably enough, was to make another effort to prevent the expansion of the war, by sending an emissary to Copenhagen in response to an opening from the Prince of Hesse who was father-in-law to the Danish Crown Prince Frederick. The Crown Prince was effective sovereign of Denmark because of the imbecility of the king, Christian VII. Nicholas Vansittart, the recently appointed Joint Secretary of the Treasury who was entrusted with this mission, was instructed to offer Denmark an alliance – with a guarantee of a fleet of twenty sail-of-the-line to defend her against Russian resentment – in return for abandoning the League. Very quickly Addington, and the new Foreign Secretary Lord Robert Hawkesbury, were persuaded by a letter from Bernstorff that Denmark would not be deflected from the pro-Russian policy without resort to force. When faced with the reality that the strategic power of the Royal Navy could only be secured by a confrontation with the Baltic states, the new administration grasped the nettle.7 However, the very quality that had made Addington a successful Speaker of the House of Commons, his accommodation of differing points of view, detracted from his ability as a war leader. His purpose was to remain firm only until after the departure of the fleet. On  March, before the guns started firing at Copenhagen, Addington was to make overtures to Napoleon for a peace treaty.

The Baltic Force Assembles In the last weeks before Earl Spencer resigned from the Admiralty when Pitt stepped down, the Board appointed Admiral Sir Hyde Parker to take command of the Baltic force. It was an unfortunate choice. Parker came from an old naval family. His father had sailed before the mast in Admiral Anson’s Centurion when he circumnavigated the world between  and , and had made an early reputation as a captain in the operations to capture Manila undertaken by Admiral Cornish in , during which he had captured a great galleon.8 The younger Hyde 


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Chapter 

The Battle of Trafalgar HE BATTLE of Trafalgar was tactically and strategically the most decisive naval battle of the war against the French Revolution and Empire. It is a controversial action because Nelson’s tactics were unorthodox and dangerous, and only justified by the outcome. Nelson’s dictum that ‘the boldest measures are the safest’, has left generations of naval historians breathless. Some admire the subtlety of his method, others are shaken by the dangers he faced down, but all have to concede that they worked. The battle was strategically decisive because it put an end for good to the threat of invasion of the British Isles, it ensured that it would be Britain and not France which could use naval forces to influence the course of history in the Mediterranean, and it ensured that British seaborne trade would be able to pay for the coalitions of European states formed to defeat Bonapartism. In this, the final achievement of his career, Nelson lost his own life. The camps at Etaples, Boulogne, Wimereau, Calais and Dunkirk had been broken up after the signature of the Treaty of Amiens, and Napoleon rhetorically asked the British ambassador, Lord Whitworth,

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how could it be supposed that after having gained the height on which he stood, that after having raised himself from little more than a common soldier to the head of the most powerful country on the Continent, he would risk his life and reputation in such a hazardous attempt [as an invasion of England], unless forced to it by necessity, when the chances were that he and the greatest part of the expedition would go to the bottom of the sea?1

But the victor of Marengo and absolute ruler of France could not regard with complacency the idea that Britain was beyond the reach of French arms, and ‘a descent was the only means of offence he had’. One hundred and twelve thousand soldiers were encamped near the embarkation ports, with reserves behind them, 


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Correct view of Boulogne, with the encampments, on the heights, of the French army, intended by Buonaparté for the invasion of England. It was engraved by from a drawing of Nicholas Pocock’s, copied from a sketch taken by an officer on board the Euryalus frigate. From The Naval Chronicle.

and nearly two thousand boats were made ready to transport them. On  March  King George III sent a warning notice to Parliament: ‘His Majesty thinks it necessary to acquaint the House of Commons, that, as very considerable military preparations are carrying on in the ports of France and Holland, he has judged it expedient to adopt additional measures of precaution for the security of his dominions.’2 Finally, on  May, Parliament was informed that ‘his Majesty finds himself compelled to take such measures as are necessary for vindicating the honour of his Crown and the just rights of his subjects.’3 To deny the French Marine its needed manpower, the Royal Navy undertook a sweep against French shipping. Two days later, on  May , the French Senate proclaimed Napoleon Emperor of the French, and two months later he insisted on witnessing a rehearsal of the embarkation. The naval officers on the staff objected that the weather was dangerous, but they were unable to dissuade him, and two thousand soldiers were drowned. Nevertheless, Napoleon could not believe that he might fail. On  December he crowned himself at Notre Dame Cathedral. St Vincent, who had to face a parliamentary enquiry into his handling of the Admiralty, scornfully dismissed the threat of invasion. His confidence was not misplaced, but the threat of invasion did have wide operational and strategic significance. Admiral Lord Keith was placed in overall command of coastal defence 


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The Battle of Trafalgar with his headquarters in a house at Ramsgate. Captain Edward Owen was placed in command of the inshore squadron off Boulogne. French control of the Dutch navy continued to be a factor, and when Spain declared war on Britain in December  another thirty-two Spanish ships of the line were added to the forces Napoleon controlled. This revived the prospect of his being able to overwhelm the Royal Navy in the Channel. The Peace of Amiens had been especially welcome in Spain, which had watched with concern British efforts to encourage revolt in the Spanish empire, and Napoleon’s humiliation of the Pope. But the imbecile King Charles IV could not distance himself from Napoleon who obliged him to reinstate the disgraced Godoy as his minister, to cede Louisiana to France, which Napoleon then sold to the United States, and to declare war on Portugal. By a treaty of  October , Spain was required to enforce on Portugal a strict neutrality which inevitably led to conflict with Britain. A tribute was exacted from Spain by Napoleon, and eventually Pitt sanctioned an ill-considered effort to intercept a small Spanish treasure fleet so that the specie it carried should not reach France. The operation was badly conceived, because not enough force was sent to justify the Spanish commander surrendering without a fight. In the action which followed, one of his ships blew up with great loss of life and treasure. Even following this tragedy, Spanish sentiment was still against France, but after holding out against French pressure for several months, the Spanish government declared war. This time, there was to be no repeat of the strategic withdrawal of the British Mediterranean fleet to the Atlantic as there had been in . The diplomatic consequences were clearly unacceptable. The threat imminent in Napoleon’s camps and flotillas could in the long term be just as dangerous if they prevented support being offered to England’s few allies. In the Baltic, Russia, Prussia, Sweden and Denmark were all more or less vulnerable to Napoleon’s forces, but their politics could be influenced by naval power, and especially by the power to control maritime trade. In the Mediterranean, Britain’s few friends depended upon the support they could receive from the Royal Navy, and from seaborne forces. The Kingdom of Sicily continued to hold out against the Revolution, but after the British declaration of war Napoleon had ordered the Armée d’Observation du Midi to return to Taranto, where it threatened Naples, and was also well placed to renew the French interest in the Levant. French soldiers under the command of General Laurent Gouvion de Saint Cyr occupied the fortifications about the city on  May , and in June  the Ligurian Republic, Genoa, was annexed by France. These moves played into British hands. The Russians continued to be 


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Nelson’s Battles concerned about Britain’s interference with their trade, and recognised that Britain was hostile to Russia acquiring a naval base in the Mediterranean, but Tsar Alexander came to believe that Napoleon’s ambition knew no bounds: ‘he is a scourge of the world; he wants war; well, he shall have it, and the sooner the better.’4 Russia joined the third coalition against Napoleon on  July, and Austria, concerned at Napoleon’s interference with Austrian plans for northern Italy, joined on  August. It was to be a plan developed during the early months of  to dispatch a British army under Lieutenant-General Sir James Craig, to relieve the garrison at Malta, and to use the veterans in a joint operation with a Russian army based on Corfu to ensure the independence of Naples, which in the end set the scene for the battle of Trafalgar. The offensive move to Malta had been important in persuading the Tsar to act against France; the movement of Anglo-Russian forces to Naples tied down French forces in Italy; and that encouraged Emperor Francis II to join the third coalition. With the resumption of hostilities, Nelson had been given command of the Mediterranean squadron, and hoisted his flag as Vice Admiral of the Blue. Nominally his base was Malta, but that island was too distant from Toulon for the fleet to spend any time there. For nearly two years he did not step ashore from the Victory, and for much of the time his squadron operated out of the Magdalena anchorage in northern Sardinia. Much to his irritation, he was relieved of responsibility for the Atlantic coast of Spain, a separate command being established based on Gibraltar. This was given to Sir John Orde. The two were not well suited as a team. In  Orde had been so angry when Nelson had been given command of the detachment which defeated Brueys at the Nile that he had had to be sent home. Month after month the watch was kept, by the ships under Nelson’s command before Toulon and Cartagena, by Sir John Orde’s off the western ports of Spain, and by squadrons off Ferrol and Rochefort, all of which were backed by the Channel Fleet under Admiral Cornwallis closely blockading Brest. Nelson’s care for the health of his men was a vital factor in his ability to keep on station at such a long distance from home. There was little prospect of any enemy squadron coming out if it would be immediately confronted by a Royal Navy squadron. The British Mediterranean force had to be out of sight from Toulon and yet deployed where it had reasonable prospect, should the French come out, of being able to pursue them with good chance of intercepting them before they could do any harm, or return to their base. Much depended upon the accidents of weather, and 


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The Battle of Trafalgar upon a correct anticipation of the enemy’s intentions. The political tasks were as important as the tactical. The regular presence of a British ship of war in Naples harbour was important if that court, which once already had owed their lives to Nelson’s ships, was to resist French bullying. After the death in August  of Admiral Latouche-Tréville, France’s most distinguished sailor and the man who had organised the defences of Boulogne, command of the Mediterranean Fleet was given to Vice Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve. Following his defeat at Trafalgar, he was met by Midshipman Hercules Robinson of the Euryalus who described him as ‘a tallish thin man, a very tranquil, placid, English-looking Frenchman’, fashionably dressed in ‘a long- tailed uniform coat, high and flat collar, corduroy pantaloons of a greenish colour, with stripes two inches wide, half boots with sharp toes, and a watch chain with long gold links’.5 Villeneuve was one of the French aristocracy who had been rewarded for their willingness to serve the Republic by rapid promotion. He had served with Admiral Suffren, whose tactical skills had been unparalleled in the prerevolutionary navy, before his service under Brueys and his escape at the end of the battle of the Nile. He had been given command of the Mediterranean fleet before the age of forty. Those British officers who met him after his defeat were surprised by their discovery that he was ‘gentlemanly’ and ‘well-bred’, and ‘a very good officer’. The Spaniards also found that he was a man they could respect. When, on  January , Villeneuve slipped out of Toulon with eleven ships of the line, Nelson was unable to react in time. His frigates found him at the Magdalena anchorage and reported that the French were sailing south-southwest. His more immediate concern was for the safety of Sardinia and Sicily, and he sailed at once against a heavy gale. When he failed to intercept the French there, he sailed eastward to Greece, and then Alexandria. Villeneuve, however, had found that his seamen were too raw after months of harbour service, and eventually he put back into Toulon. He begged Napoleon to relieve him of his responsibility, but his request was refused.

Napoleon’s Invasion Directives It was at this point, with Nelson’s force back at its Sardinian anchorage, that Napoleon set in motion the grand design which, but for its inherent flaws, was to have concentrated a Franco-Spanish fleet on the Channel to escort the invasion force. The Rochefort squadron had escaped at the same time as had Villeneuve from Toulon. They were to have met in the West Indies. Now Napoleon revised 


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The Battle of Trafalgar

Epilogue The letter Lord Minto wrote to his wife when he heard the news of Trafalgar and of the death of Nelson stands as a fitting epitaph.

The black marble sarcophagus in the crypt of St Paul’s cathedral, under which are the simple words ‘HORATIO VISC. NELSON’, engraved in gold. The coffin is laid in the large rectangular stone base. (Photograph Matt Prince)




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Nelson’s Battles My sense of his irreparable loss, as well as my sincere and deep regret for so kind a friend, have hardly left room for other feelings which belong, however, hardly less naturally to this event. I was extremely shocked and hurt when I heard it, and it has kept me low and melancholy all day. One knows, on reflection, that such a death is the finest close, and the crown, as it were, of such a life; and possibly, if his friends were angels and not men, they would acknowledge it as the last favour Providence could bestow and a seal and security for all the rest. His glory is certainly at its summit, and could be raised no higher by any length of life; but he might have lived at least to enjoy it.145

Blackwood’s letter to his wife the day following the battle was written in more impassioned words, and perhaps reflected the mood of the British fleet most accurately: The first hour since yesterday morning that I could call my own is now before me, to be devoted to my dearest wife, who, thank God, is not a husband out of pocket. My heart, however, is sad, and penetrated with the deepest anguish. A Victory, such a one as has never been achieved, yesterday took place in the course of five hours; but at such an expense, in the loss of the most gallant of men, and best of friends, as renders it to me a Victory I never wished to have witnessed – at least, on such terms. After performing wonders by his example and coolness, Lord Nelson was wounded by a French Sharpshooter, and died three hours after, beloved and regretted in a way not to find example. To any other person, my Harriet, but yourself, I could not and would not enter so much into the detail, particularly of what I feel at this moment. But to you, who know and enter into all my feelings, I do not, even at the risk of distressing you, hesitate to say that in my life, I never was so shocked or so completely upset as upon my flying to the Victory, even before the Action was over, to find Lord Nelson was then at the gasp of death. Thank God, he lived to know that such a Victory, and under circumstances so disadvantageous to the attempt, never was before gained. Almost all seemed as if inspired by the one common sentiment of conquer or die. The Enemy, to do them justice, were not less so. They waited the attack of the British with a coolness I was sorry to witness, and they fought in a way that must do them honour. As a spectator, who saw the faults, or rather mistakes, on both sides, I shall ever do them the justice to say so. They are, however, beat, and I hope and trust that it may be the means of hastening a Peace. Buonaparte, I firmly believe, forced them to sea to try his luck, and what it might procure him in a pitched battle. They had the flower of the combined Fleet, and I hope it will

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The Battle of Trafalgar convince Europe at large that he has not yet learnt enough to cope with the English at sea.146

A seaman of the Victory, James Bayley, wrote to his sister that Nelson’s last words were that he was ‘going to Heaven’ but that Hardy should ‘never haul down your colours to France, for your men will stick to you’. These words was to Captain Hardy, and so we did, for we came off victorious, and they have behaved well to us, for they wanted to take Nelson from us, but we told captain as we brought him out we would bring him home; so it was so, and he was put into a cask of spirits.147

The nation mourned Nelson, and gave him a state funeral in St Paul’s cathedral. His undeserving elder brother was created an earl and given a grant of £, to purchase the Trafalgar estate. Lady Nelson, Fanny, was provided with a pension of £,, Nelson’s sisters each received a pension of £,, and a pension was paid to Earl Nelson and his heirs until . Only Emma was ignored, both by the state and by Nelson’s now wealthy brother. Never very effective at managing her finances, she was to die in poverty. The officers and men who took part in the battle were generous with their hardearned property. In the log of Orion it was entered, on  November , that The officers and ship’s company being assembled, the captain read the proposal of the admiral to them that two thousand pounds should be deducted from the prize money for the action on the st of October, , for the purpose of erecting a monument on Portsdown Hill to the memory of Lord Nelson, the late commander-in-chief, which the officers and ship’s company all agreed to, and as much more if required.148

The figurehead of Conqueror had been destroyed in the battle; at the request of her ship’s company it was replaced with a statue of Nelson on an heroic scale. Admiral Gravina died a painful death from the wounds he had received.149 Villeneuve’s fate was worse. Taken prisoner to England, where he was politely received and even attended Nelson’s funeral, he was eventually exchanged for British prisoners of war. He crossed to France, but was killed before he could reach Paris. Possibly he committed suicide on Napoleon’s orders. He was so patently an honest and loyal officer that his return to French society would have undermined the story of his incompetence and cowardice which Napoleon was fabricating to distract attention from his own responsibility for the disaster. 


An extract from the book Nelson's Battles