Horatio Nelson
Portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott
Gender Male[1]
Birth 29 September 1758, Burnham Thorpe, England[1]
Death 21 October 1805, HMS Victory[1]
Nationality British[1]
Spouse Frances Nisbet[2]
Father Edmund Nelson[3]
Mother Catherine Nelson[3]
Burial Saint Paul's Cathedral[1]
Religion  ?

Horatio Nelson, also known as 1st Viscount Nelson, was an important English naval officer active during the French Revolution and the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars.


Early life and careerEdit

Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe, England, on 29 September 1758,[1] to Reverend Edmund Nelson and his wife, Catherine Nelson.[3] He was the sixth of eleven children.[2] He entered the English Navy in 1770, at age 12. Three years after, he went on an Arctic expedition under Commodore Constantine Phipps, and on his return in 1777, he was made a lieutenant. Two years later he was promoted to the rank of post-captain. He was then sent to Nicaragua in command of a man-of-war. Through 1781-1782 he made another expedition into the North Sea, but returned to the West Indies in 1782 and placed in command of the HMS Boreas; he was kept on this duty for five years, accomplishing much good from his vigorous attempts to prevent smuggling between the United States and the British colonies.[1]

Nelson's indomitable spirit in insisting upon enforcing the Navigation Acts against all foreign nations brought him into conflict with his commander, Sir Richard Hughes, and made him unpopular in commercial circles; for a long time he was harassed with vexatious lawsuits. He was, however, upheld by the British government. In 1787,[1] Nelson was married to Frances Nisbet.[2] Six months after his marriage he returned with his wife to England and was placed upon the retired list. It has been hinted that through jealousy undue influence was brought to bear upon the Admiralty to keep him from active service. At any rate he remained in obscurity until all officers were recalled into active service on the outbreak of the war with the French Republic in 1792.[1]

Further careerEdit

Battle of Cape St Vincent

Horatio Nelson boarding the San Josef at the Battle of Cape Saint Vincent.

The year 1793 saw the real beginning of Nelson's career. He had attracted Lord Hood's attention, and at his solicitation was placed in command of the ship HMS Agamemnon, 64 guns, and sent to join Lord Hood in the Mediterranean Sea, where he rendered him valuable assistance at the siege of Bastia in May 1794. He participated in the Siege of Calvi and there had the misfortune to lose one of his eyes. While on this station he also served under William Hotham and Sir John Jervis. While on a diplomatic mission to Naples in September 1793 he met Lady Emma Hamilton, who was destined to be so closely identified with an important part of his life. In 1796 he was promoted to be commodore and was given a new command. On 25 September 1796, orders came ordering the abandonment of Corsica and the Mediterranean, and Nelson sorrowfully left the field. He was, however, shortly sent back to secure supplies which had been left on the island of Elba, and on returning passed through the whole Spanish fleet which had then joined the common cause of France. On the following day occurred the famous Battle of Cape Saint Vincent, 14 February 1797. For his gallantry and skill in manceuvering his vessel he was made Rear-Admiral of the Blue and appointed to the command of the inner squadron at the Blockade of Cádiz. His next service was an attack on the town of Santa Cruz, in the island of Tenerife, in which he suffered the loss of his right arm. The wound refused to heal and he was obliged to return to England.[1]

He was decorated with the Order of the Bath by George III and at the same time awarded a pension of $5,000. On the 29 March 1798 he again set sail and joined Admiral Jervis off Cádiz on 30 April. The admiral sent him to watch the progress of the armament at Toulon. Notwithstanding his vigilance, the French fleet which conveyed Napoleon Bonaparte to Egypt escaped. Nelson followed, and discovered the Napoleon's fleet moored in the Bay of Abukir, where he obtained a complete victory, all the French ships but two being taken or destroyed. This achievement was rewarded with the title of "Baron Nelson of the Nile" and an additional pension of $10,000. Nelson set sail from Alexandria on 19 August and arrived at Naples on 22 September. Here began the pitiable period of his career, which left an indelible blot upon his otherwise unblemished name. He came under the influence of Emma, Lady Hamilton, wife of the English ambassador. His criminal relations with that lady, with whom he lived openly after the death of her husband, led to his ultimate separation from his devoted wife. Her influence can be recognized in many of his public acts during the two years he spent under her spell in Naples. During this time he seemed to fall into a lethargy which for the time being made him forget his duty to Great Britain, and at one time he practically acted in the capacity of admiral of the Neapolitan navy. He did, however, really get the Neapolitans to take up arms against the French, but their army was soon subdued and the Parthenopaean Republic was established by Napoleon.[1]

Back in dutyEdit

Finally Nelson seemed to awake to a new sense of duty, being goaded by the appointment of a junior officer, Sir William Sidney Smith, to an important command in the HMS Levant, and also aroused by the exciting news that Admiral Étienne Eustache Bruix had escaped with the French fleet from Brest and was about to enter the Mediterranean. The imminent danger of the French regaining the naval supremacy of the Mediterranean set Nelson to work with all his old time vigor. In the meantime Admiral Jervis had resigned his command and was succeeded by George Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith, with whom he was at variance from the very start. He determined to take Naples before the possible arrival of the French, and forthwith appeared before that city 24 June 1799. Here he found Commodore Caraccioli in command of a Neapolitan squadron which was in league with the Republicans who were in complete control. The forts of the city surrendered on 26 June and then followed Nelson's worst mistake. The Neapolitan admiral was not captured until 29 June, but Nelson immediately ordered a court-martial and condemned him to death, thus violating the capitulation concluded 23 June. Caraccioli was cruelly hanged. The whole miserable affair has been attributed to the influence of Lady Hamilton, who was also the favorite of the Queen of Naples. It was little honor to Nelson that the King of Naples, Ferdinand IV, soon after this created him Duke of Bronté.[1]

Nelson's flagrant disobedience of orders shortly after this is also ascribed to feminine influence. He obstinately remained at Naples when ordered to join Lord Keith, who expected to meet the French fleet. This meeting, as a matter of fact, never took place, but a great victory might have been won had Nelson's fleet put in an appearance in time. This affair had a great deal to do with his quarrels with Keith and also his subsequent orders recalling him to England. He arrived home 6 November 1800, having traveled overland with the Hamiltons; soon after this the scandal of his life culminated in the final breach with his wife.[1]

Last battlesEdit

Nelson's promotion to the rank of Vice-Admiral was dated 1 January 1801 and he was at once employed on an expedition to aid Sir Hyde Parker against the league of Denmark-Norway. This league by its policy of armed neutrality was really aiding the French Republic, and Nelson wished to strike first at Russia, but this policy was overridden, and Nelson contented himself with making a bold attack on the Danish fleet at Copenhagen. He completely annihilated the fleet and silenced the shore batteries on 2 April. During the battle his attention was called to the fact that his ship had been signaled to cease firing. Placing a telescope to his blind eye he remarked he could not see the signal. This remark added to his popularity at home. For his success and gallantry upon this occasion he was created a Viscount, and his honors were made hereditary in his family, even in the female line. He then took command of the squadron for defense against theeeeeeeeeee contemplated French invasion of England and unsuccessfully attacked the French flotilla off Boulogne on 15 August.[1]

He then went back to Lady Hamilton in Merton Surrey and remained there during the Treaty of Amiens. When hostilities recommenced after the Treaty of Amiens, Lord Nelson was appointed to command the fleet in the Mediterranean, and for nearly two years was engaged in the blockade of Toulon. But, in spite of his vigilance, the French fleet got out of port on 30 March 1805, and, being joined by a Spanish squadron from Cádiz, sailed to the West Indies. The British admiral pursued them all the way to the West Indies and back to Europe. He finally took refuge at Cádiz, but Nelson's object had been accomplished, for without his naval forces, Napoleon could not carry out his plan of invasion and was now obliged to turn his attention to Austria, which had, in the meantime, declared war.[1]

Nelson now had French admiral Villeneuve in a trap, but hardly expected him to leave the harbor. The French admiral, however, learned that Napoleon was contemplating relieving him of his command because he would not fight. In despair, Villeneuve decided on desperate measures and the French and Spanish fleets sailed forth to meet the dreaded enemy, leaving the harbor on 19 October, the French commanded by Villeneuve, the Spaniards by Gravina. On 21 October they came up with the British squadron off Cape Trafalgar. Then occurred the Battle of Trafalgar, as desperate an engagement as ever took place upon the high seas. The engagement ended in a glorious victory for the British, but it cost them the greatest naval hero England ever produced. Nelson was mortally wounded early in the day and died during the afternoon. His remains were carried to England and he was buried with much pomp in Saint Paul's Cathedral on 8 January 1806.[1]



In 1849, a monument called "Nelson's Column" was erected to his memory in the aptly-named Trafalgar Square, London, commemorating his duty to the Royal Navy.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 The Encyclopedia Americana Corporation. "Nelson, Horatio." Encyclopedia Americana. Vol. 20. New York: Encyclopedia Americana, 1919. 64-65. Print.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Horatio Nelson." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 24 Nov. 2010 <>.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Southey, Robert. "Chapter 1." The Life of Admiral Horatio Nelson. New York: A.L. Burt, 1902. 1. Print.

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