Horatio Nelson: A Case Study in Naval Excellence: Part 6 (the End)
Patrick Harris -In final part I will cover Nelson during the Trafalgar Campaign. I will also chronicle his funeral. After the Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson spent some time ashore with Emma Hamilton, after this he went back to sea as commander of the Mediterranean Fleet. He commanded the fleet as it was blockading Toulon. After a year and a half at this post he was promoted to Vice-Admiral of the White on 23 April 1804. In January of 1805, the French Fleet set sail under Admiral Villeneuve escaped Toulon. Nelson set off in pursuit; but this was for nothing, as the wind had not been in the French Fleet's favour and they were forced to return to Toulon. Villeneuve broke out a second time and passed through the Straight of Gibraltar, heading for the West Indies. Nelson followed the French, spending June fruitlessly searching for them. Villeneuve had gone back to Europe almost as soon as he had arrived. On the way back they were intercepted by the Fleet of Sir Robert Calder at the inconclusive Battle of Cape Finisterre.
Nelson returned to Europe in July and travelled to England for some shore leave. He went very disappointed with himself, but was cheered when he arrived in London. He travelled to the house he had bought with Emma, Merton Place in August. It was there that he drew up plans for a pell-mell battle, one which he felt certain his fleet could win. Capt. Blackwood arrived on 2 September 1805, telling Nelson that the combined (Franco-Spanish) Fleet was currently at Cadiz. Nelson went to London to get the appointment to command the Fleet blockading Cadiz, which he did. While waiting for these orders, he met the future Duke of Wellington. They had a very interesting conversation, the only one between them ever. The topics included the war, the state of the colonies and the geopolitical situation. Between the two of them they achieved the greatest victories on land and sea of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and came to be recognised as the United Kingdom's foremost military heroes. Nelson went back to Merton, one last time, to set his affairs in order. He travelled down to Portsmouth, and board his flagship, the 100 gun HMS Victory
Napoleon had originally intended for the combined fleet to cover an invasion of England, but Villeneuve was afraid of the power of the English fleet, and refused to sail. This caused Napoleon to send a replacement to take command of the Fleet. Villeneuve, not wanting to lose favour, sailed at once, tossing aside his fears. This was 20 October 1805. It was immediately sighted and at four in the morning on 21 October, the British Fleet went to action stations. Nelson went to his cabin, writing a final prayer before sending this message:
The Fleets converged, and Nelson refused several urges by his officers to better ensure his safety. These included changing coats, getting on a different ship, and letting another ship go before his in the line of battle. HMS Victory lead the British, coming under fire from several Franco-Spanish ships on her approach. She eventually pierced the line, beginning a pell-mell battle by attacking the French flagship Bucentaure. Nelson and his Flag-Captain Hardy walked around in the open, directing the battle. Shortly after one, Hardy saw Nelson kneeling, then collapse on the deck. Nelson had been hit. He said this when Hardy came to his aid " Hardy, I do believe they have done it at last… my backbone is shot through".
He was brought below, telling the surgeon "You can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live. My back is shot through". He was made comfortable. Nelson gave his final wishes to the surgeon (William Beatty) and Hardy. At half past two, Hardy informed Nelson that the Franco-Spanish had been roundly defeated. Nelson, fearing that a gale was blowing up, instructed Hardy to be sure to anchor (the bullet hadn't taken his sea sense). After reminding him to "take care of poor Lady Hamilton", Nelson said "Kiss me, Hardy", which Hardy did. Nelson's pulse weakened and he died at half-past four. His last words were "Thank God I have done my duty" "God and my country".
It is in my opinion that had Nelson survived, he may have been made a Marques or even a Duke. Being that he died, his brother was created Earl Nelson and Viscount Merton in recognition of his brother's services.
Nelson's body was placed in a cask of brandy. As news of his death reached Emma Hamilton she could not speak for ten hours. King George III was brought to tears stating: "We have lost more than we have gained". Nelson was to be given a hero's funeral, being buried at St.Paul's because he detested Westminster Abbey (As he thought it was icky). His funeral was attended by the Prince of Wales, 32 Admirals, hundreds of Captains. His body was escorted by 10,000 soldiers. He was laid to rest after a four hour service in a sarcophagus which had been kicking around Windsor Castle for a few hundred years, originally being carved for Cardinal Wolsey.
Nelson's titles passed by a special remainder to his brother. Emma Hamilton, being a mistress, received no pension, and she died penniless in 1815. Horatia married Rev. Philip Ward, with whom she had ten children before her death in 1881.