Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson

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Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, 1758–1805 , by Lemuel Francis Abbott (1799; National Maritime Museum , Greenwich, London).
Signature Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson.PNG

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte , KB (born September 29, 1758 in Burnham Thorpe , Norfolk , England ; †  October 21, 1805 , Cape Trafalgar , Spain ) was a British admiral who achieved several well-respected sea victories or played a decisive role in this: 1797 St. Vincent (off the coast of Portugal), 1798 Abukir , 1801 Copenhagen , 1805 Trafalgar .


Childhood and youth

Horatio Nelson was born on September 29, 1758 in Burnham Thorpe. His father, Reverend Edmund Nelson, was a clergyman in the Anglican Church , like many of his ancestors. His mother, Catherine Suckling, was a great niece of Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford , the first British Prime Minister. Nelson was nine years old when his mother died, leaving him and his seven siblings in his father's care. He attended the Norwich Grammar School in Norwich and the Paston Grammar School in North Walsham .

He learned to sail at Barton Broad in the Norfolk Broads , and when he was twelve he was hired by the Royal Navy . His naval career began on January 1, 1771 when he was entered on the crew list of the Raisonable , which was commanded by Maurice Suckling, his maternal uncle. He began serving as a midshipman in March. His uncle later took on one of the most important functions in the Royal Navy and greatly promoted his nephew's early career.

During his life - even as a famous admiral - Nelson suffered badly from seasickness .

Since the Raisonable was decommissioned after a short time, he sailed in August 1771 with the merchant ship Mary Ann under Captain John Rathbone in the Caribbean, but then returned to the Royal Navy. From June 4, 1773 he took part in an, albeit unsuccessful, Arctic expedition to explore the Northeast Passage . The voyage on the Carcass via Spitsbergen and the island of Novaya Zemlya in search of a navigable waterway in an easterly direction to the Pacific ended after being temporarily locked in the pack ice with an early return to England on September 25th.

Nelson spent the next three years on the frigate Seahorse in the waters of India before returning to England sick in 1776 due to severe attacks of malaria . In 1777 he passed his lieutenant examination and sailed on various warships in the Caribbean.

First commands

The first missions as commander of a warship took place in 1778 on the schooner Little Lucy and the brig Badger . In June 1779 he became the captain ( post captain transported). First he commanded the frigate Hinchinbroke . Nelson's successor on the latter two ships was his lifelong friend Cuthbert Collingwood .

In 1780 he was ordered to accompany troop transports to Nicaragua . The goal was to conquer the Spanish fortress El Castillo on the Río San Juan . Before the fortress was occupied on April 24th, Nelson had to return to England for health reasons. He may have contracted yellow fever in the tropical jungle . After a year in England, he took command of the frigate Albemarle in August 1781 , on which he sailed first in the Baltic Sea until June 1783, later off Québec and New York as well as in the Caribbean.

Nelson used the peace between Great Britain and France concluded in 1783 to stay in France to improve his knowledge of the French language - albeit largely unsuccessfully.

During this peacetime in 1784 Nelson was given command of the 28-cannon frigate Boreas with which he cruised in the waters off Antigua . During this time he got into great trouble with the British colonists on Antigua because of the strict observance of the "Navigation Act". Under British law, the breakaway American provinces were not allowed to trade with the British colonies in the Caribbean. However, the trade was tolerated by the British authorities, who made good money on it. Nelson confiscated many American ships he believed to be illegal and was subsequently sued by shipowners for illegally confiscating the property. The lawsuit was supported by Nevis merchants, and Nelson was forced to remain on the Boreas for eight months, threatened with imprisonment . Only a declaration of solidarity by the British government saved Nelson from financial harm.

During this time he met the young widow Frances ("Fanny") Nisbet, whom he married on March 11, 1787, at the end of his mission in the Caribbean, on the island of Nevis . The marriage should be childless. Upon his return to England, Nelson resigned as an active naval officer and lived with his wife on half pay for five years in the rectory of Burnham Thorpe.

Reactivation and first glory

Horatio Nelson, Admiral , portrait by John Hoppner

When the French Revolution spread across France's borders , it resulted in the formation of a war coalition of European monarchies. France declared war on Great Britain on February 1, 1793. Nelson immediately applied for a new command and in February took over the newly built HMS Agamemnon , equipped with 64 cannons . With this ship he established his historical fame.

In June Nelson sailed into the Mediterranean Sea to be under the command of Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood . The goal was the blockade of Toulon , at that time the most important French naval port in southern France. In August the port city was captured by British troops . To get additional troop reinforcements, Hood sent Nelson to the Kingdom of Naples, allied with England . In September 1793 he met the British ambassador's wife Emma, later called Lady Hamilton , for the first time . After the return of the Agamemnon to Toulon, Nelson sailed on a secret mission to Tunis and had his first major battle with a small enemy fleet. Since Toulon had been retaken in December , Great Britain turned its attention to Corsica . In July 1794, Nelson and his crew and cannons of the Agamemnon intervened on land in the attack on Calvi . On July 10th, Nelson was seriously wounded for the first time. Sand and small splinters blown up by a cannonball struck his right eye, causing severe vision loss. The injury was not visible, however, and contrary to some beliefs, Nelson never wore an eye patch.

Up until the beginning of 1797, Nelson was active in various missions in the Mediterranean, which had gained strategic importance when Spain entered the war . At that time he was appointed Commodore , commanded the HMS Captain in addition to the Agamemnon . On February 14, 1797, he sailed on this ship in the first of a total of four major naval battles , which should bring him immortal fame in his English homeland. Thanks to his ingenious tactical skills, the sea ​​battle at Cape St. Vincent (1797) off the coast of Portugal was victorious. The fact that Nelson deliberately ignored an order from Commander-in-Chief Admiral John Jervis is now doubted. Jervis, who as commanding admiral was awarded the main credit for success and earl dignity, praised Nelson in retrospect for his thoughtful approach. Nelson was on 27 May 1797, the Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath in the knighthood raised.

Promotion to admiral

Nelson's uniform, currently aboard HMS Victory

In February 1797, he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue , the ninth highest rank in the Royal Navy.

In the period between July 22nd and 25th, 1797 Nelson tried in vain during an attack on Santa Cruz to take the port and the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife with a fleet. During an unsuccessful landing maneuver, he was shot in the right arm. The ship's doctor then amputated his arm up to his shoulder.

In the sea ​​battle at Abukir on August 1, 1798, Nelson won another decisive victory over France, which ultimately led to the failure of General Napoléon Bonaparte's Egyptian expedition . Nelson was awarded the title of Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe for this victory on November 6th . Since all previous Ottoman medals could only be awarded to Muslims, Sultan Selim III honored . first through a Çelenk and then donated the Order of the Half Moon , which Nelson received in August 1799 as the first bearer.

During the occupation of Naples by the French, he evacuated the Neapolitan-Sicilian royal family to Sicily. At the court there in Palermo he fell in love with Lady Emma Hamilton  - the young wife of the British ambassador to Naples. After the defeat of the Neapolitan republic , he refused to allow the republicans there to withdraw to France in breach of the conditions of surrender. He had the admiral of the republican fleet, Duke Francesco Caracciolo , executed. Most of the intellectual elite of Naples, the majority of whom had supported the republic, including constitutional lawyer Francesco Mario Pagano and newspaper editor Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel , were sentenced to death or life in prison.

Sea battle at Abukir , painting by Thomas Luny (1798)

In 1799 he became Rear Admiral of the Red (seventh highest rank in the Royal Navy), his flagship was the Foudroyant . In July he supported the reconquest of Naples and the reinstatement of King Ferdinand IV with his armed forces , for which he gave him the dignity of Duke of Bronte and transferred the land belonging to it to Sicily . His extramarital relationship with Lady Hamilton made headlines in the native UK . In 1800 Nelson was ordered back to Great Britain with the Hamiltons. Lady Emma bore him a daughter in January 1801, who was baptized Horatia. A little later he separated from his wife Fanny (but there was no divorce) and granted her a respectable annual income. Nelson and Emma moved into a house on Queenborough Harbor .

Nelson's failure at Boulogne-sur-mer , by Louis-Philippe Crepin

On January 1, 1801 he became Vice Admiral of the Blue (sixth highest rank in the Royal Navy). On April 2, 1801, he led the naval battle of Copenhagen , in which he eliminated the Danish navy in order to break the "armed neutrality" of Denmark, Sweden and Russia , which opposed the British claims to trade and power. When the combat situation became more and more confused, he received the order from his Commander-in-Chief Sir Hyde Parker , who remained at a safe distance from the battle site with the rest of the fleet , to cease the fighting, which, however, would have meant the loss of many ships and a definite defeat in front of the batteries . Nelson did not obey the order. Later he was supposed to excuse himself by bringing the telescope to his eye, but not being able to see any signal flags (it was the blind eye, however). In order to win, Nelson used a ruse: despite the actually confused situation, he offered the Danes honest surrender, which they accepted and surrendered to him. His insubordination was benevolently accepted by the Admiralty, and Parker's reluctance and misjudgment in battle was punished by the appointment of Nelson as commander-in-chief of the fleet in the Baltic Sea . In addition, the king made him Viscount Nelson , of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe on May 22nd . Since he had no legitimate children, he also received the title Baron Nelson , of the Nile and of Hilborough with a special entitlement in August ( see also: Earl Nelson ).

Nelson was now in command of the British Canal Fleet. An attack he directed on French ships at Boulogne-sur-Mer remained on the 15th and 16th. August 1801 inconclusive. On October 22nd, 1801, a truce was negotiated between Great Britain and France and Nelson, who was ailing, returned to England. Together with his befriended couple William and Emma Hamilton , the Admiral soon toured Wales and England, with a visit to Matthew Boulton in Birmingham being the highlight of the tour.

Final reactivation and death in battle

The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805 , by Denis Dighton (around 1825; National Maritime Museum , Greenwich, London)
The death of Admiral Lord Nelson - in the moment of victory! , colored engraving by James Gillray (1805)

The Peace of Amiens of March 27, 1802, which followed the armistice , was already canceled by the United Kingdom in 1803 by declaring war on France. Nelson took over as Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet and was promoted to Vice Admiral of the White , the fifth highest rank in the Navy, his flagship was the HMS Victory , on which he set his flag on May 18, 1803. With her he first took part in the sea blockade of Toulon and only set foot on solid land two years later. After the French fleet was able to break through the ranks of the British, set course for the West Indies and the chase had to be broken off, Nelson again withdrew to Merton in England for health reasons .

However, two months later he was called to arms again. On September 14, 1805 he sailed on board the Victory from Portsmouth and reached the British fleet off the Spanish coast on September 28. He was facing the French and Spanish fleets that had united and were waiting in the port of Cádiz ( Spain ) under the command of Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve .

On October 21, 1805 Nelson managed to put the numerically superior enemy fleet to battle. At the beginning of the now developing Battle of Trafalgar , he sent his ships the command " England expects that every man will do his duty " by flag signal. " England expects every man to do his duty ". He used the tactic of breaking through the enemy ship line and thus defeated the Napoleonic fleet. Hit by the bullet of a French rifleman who had fired from a mast of the Redoutable , he died the same day after the overwhelming victory over the enemy fleet was reported to him. He passed away around 4:30 pm on board the Victory in Captain Thomas Hardy's arms, while Nelson's last wish "Kiss me, Hardy" was granted. Nelson's last words are said to have been “Thank God I have performed my duty” . The devastating defeat of the Napoleonic fleet meant that France was largely eliminated as a sea power, and secured the supremacy of Great Britain on the world's oceans. The invasion of the British Isles intended by Napoleon was thus effectively prevented. Due to the almost simultaneous devastating defeat of the British allies in the Battle of Austerlitz , France was able to consolidate its dominance on land, so that a stalemate arose.

Nelson's body - preserved in a barrel filled with brandy - was transferred to London , where it was buried in a state funeral, which lasted from January 5 to 9, 1806, in St Paul's Cathedral with great public sympathy .

He was succeeded as commander of the Mediterranean fleet by Admiral Lord Collingwood , who had already been his deputy at the Battle of Trafalgar .

Nelson's effect

The Death of Nelson, October 21, 1805 , painting (1805; Royal Museums Greenwich), currently on board the HMS Victory, exactly on the frame shown in the painting
Nelson Monument in St Paul's Cathedral around 1910

Nelson was a celebrity in his lifetime. He was known for treating his subordinates with understanding and treating them with more empathy than authoritarianism. With courage, determination and charisma, he motivated them and got the best out of them. There is a separate term in English for the personal leadership qualities of Nelson: the Nelson touch .

Nelson played a decisive role in ensuring that the British Navy was able to rule the oceans almost at will during the coalition wars. His victory at the Battle of Trafalgar ensured British superiority at sea and made a French landing on the British Isles finally unthinkable. The United Kingdom, Napoleon's main opponent in the coalition wars, thus became almost invulnerable. The flag signal sent by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar became the most famous signal of the British Navy: England expects that every man will do his duty .

Since Nelson had no male offspring, his brother William was given the title Earl Nelson in his place . Due to a corresponding provision by Nelson, the title Duke of Bronte and the associated duchy passed to William .

The Trafalgar Square with Nelson's Column is one of the most visited places in London. A similar monument in Dublin was destroyed by an IRA bomb attack in March 1966 .

The Royal Navy named a total of five vessels to Nelson: an HMS Lord Nelson and four HMS Nelson , including the lead ship of the Nelson class . Nelson's last ship, the HMS Victory, still serves the Commander in Chief of the Royal Navy for official receptions and events. In addition, she is still - in the spirit of British tradition - the official flagship of Her Majesty's First Sea Lord. The HMS Victory still exists today. It can be viewed in the second dry dock at Portsmouth Naval Base .

Objects that belonged to Nelson or that were made in his honor can now be seen in three major collections: the Royal Naval Museum in Her Majesty's Naval Base, Portsmouth , the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and the Lloyd's building in central London. Exhibits in the National Maritime Museum include a lock of Nelson's hair, his trousers worn on the day of his death, and his last uniform skirt with the bullet hole on his left shoulder.

List of monuments and pillars dedicated to Nelson

After Nelson's death, monuments and columns were erected in his honor in many parts of the world.

Construction year place country Height statue Height of base description image
1805 Vockerode Germany The Nelson memorial planned by Prince Franz von Anhalt-Dessau was never erected, but the intended location is still called Nelson Hill today .
1809 Dublin Ireland Nelson's Pillar was built on Sackville Street (today: O'Connell Street), blown up by the IRA in 1966 and never rebuilt. Lossy-page1-2658px-Nelson's Pillar, Sackville-Street, Dublin RMG PU3914 (cropped) .jpg
1809 Montreal Canada 2.6 m 16.5 m The Nelson's Column is on Place Jacques-Cartier. Nelson Column, Montreal 2005-10-21.JPG
1809 Birmingham England The bronze statue sculpted by Sir Richard Westmacott was unveiled on October 25th at Old Cross and transferred to the Bull Ring in 1961. Nelson statue in Birmingham.jpg
1813 Bridgetown Barbados The bronze statue sculpted by Sir Richard Westmacott was unveiled on March 22nd in Trafalgar Square (now National Heroes Square).
1840 London England 5.5 m 46 m The Nelson's Column is in Trafalgar Square. Nelson's Column Looking Towards Westminster - Trafalgar Square - London - 240404.jpg


  • Jann M. Witt : Horatio Nelson. The triumph and tragedy of a sea hero. His life and his time. 1758-1805. Koehler, Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-7822-0925-7 .
  • Barry Unsworth: Horatio's shadow. Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-442-54510-2 (A novel, but with many historical facts).
  • Friedrich-Wilhelm Pohl: Lord Nelson - A triumphal procession through Europe. Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft, Hamburg, ISBN 3-7822-0799-8 .

Representing hundreds of English books on Lord Nelson:

German Nelson's life. A biographical painting. Stuttgart 1837 (online at Google Books )
  • Carola Oman: Nelson. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, USA 1996, ISBN 1-55750-618-3 .
  • Tom Pocock: Horatio Nelson. Pimlico, London 1994, ISBN 0-7126-6123-9 .
  • Alfred Thayer Mahan, Joseph F. Callo: The Life of Nelson: The Embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, USA 2001, ISBN 1-55750-484-9 .
  • Terry Coleman: Nelson: The Man and the Legend. Bloomsbury, London 2001, ISBN 0-7475-5685-7 .



  • Nelson. The hero of Trafalger. Adventure of world history. The interesting youth magazine, No. 35 (Walter Lehning Verlag, Hanover) undated [approx. 1955].

Web links

Commons : Horatio Nelson  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Colin White: The Nelson Encyclopaedia. Chatham, London 2002. p. 20.
  2. ^ William Arthur Shaw: The Knights of England. Volume 1, Sherratt and Hughes, London 1906, p. 175.
  3. El Ministerio de defensa: Episodios de la história de España. Madrid 2010.
  4. Volker Klimpel: Famous amputees. In: Würzburg medical history reports. 23, 2004, pp. 313-327; here: p. 320 f.
  5. ^ Aftermath and legend. The National Archives, accessed October 20, 2017 .
predecessor Office successor
New title created Baron Nelson
William Nelson
New title created Duke of Bronte
William Nelson
New title created Viscount Nelson
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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on October 10, 2005 .