History's HEROES? 1758 - 1805

Horatio Nelson

What he did


His legacy

Nelson's influence continued long after his most famous battle at Trafalgar: the scene of his death. There have been many revivals of interest in the character of Nelson, especially during times of crisis in Britain. The most notable use of Nelson’s image and character was by Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister during World War 2.

Nelson is often used to stir up the image of resilience amongst the British people.  After his death, military commanders often tried to include the elements of Nelson’s character, which had most appealed to the public, into their own leadership style, particularly during the Victorian era. During this time Nelson became a figure in school text books, depicted as the greatest British hero and this led a whole new generation to adore Nelson just as much as he had been in his own lifetime. This adoration was stoked by the opening of a grand exhibition about Nelson, in 1891 in London.

During the 20th century, the adoration of Nelson was slightly more muted in the early years. A peace treaty with the French was the cause. Not wishing to offend or aggravate the French, celebrations for Trafalgar Day were far more subdued than they had been during the Victorian era.

The Second World War changed this: not only was Churchill’s cat named ‘Nelson’ but, more importantly, several biographies of Nelson were published. Nelson was used as the role model for Britons searching for inspiration during the darker moments of the Blitz or the campaigns in continental Europe. After the Second World War, Nelson’s grandiose style and character seemed to be ill fitting in a world post-holocaust and with the monumental task of rebuilding Europe and the world still ahead.

That is not to say that Nelson's image has not endured the 20th century. In 2002, Nelson was voted the ninth greatest Briton of all time in a BBC poll. 

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