History's HEROES? 1758 - 1805

Horatio Nelson

Should Horatio Nelson be considered a hero?


Arguments for
  • He led from the front.
    Nelson often led his battles from the front; his ship was regularly the first to engage the enemy.
  • He overcame injuries and ill health.
    Nelson suffered from malaria and scurvy. He lost the use of his right eye, and had to have his right arm amputated. Any of these could have excused him from active service, but each time he was determined to return to his post. He triumphed over all his illnesses and injuries to continue his great service to his country.
  • He was patriotic and gave his life for his country.
    He was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar and was greatly missed. After the death of Nelson, The Times wrote about Trafalgar "We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice. The country has gained the most splendid and decisive Victory that has ever graced the naval annals of England; but it has been dearly purchased."
  • He had incredible drive and determination.
    He had the drive to succeed and to gain victory at all costs. He also had the ability to deal with the many demanding facets of his job such as diplomacy and command of his ships in battle.
  • He was a good leader and fought alongside his men.
    He was decisive and brought the men into his confidence, making them feel he respected them. In many of the sea battles, when it came down to hand-to-hand fighting, Nelson was there fighting alongside his men, risking his life, unlike many other commanders who stayed out of danger as much as possible.
  • He was a brilliant strategist.
    Nelson was able to visualise the whole picture and develop his strategy accordingly, which often led him to taking unusual or 'unsafe' decisions, which achieved ultimate success.
  • He was humane and kind to the men under him.
    Documents show Nelson's keen interest throughout his career in the individuals who served with him, and an ability to understand and sympathise with their needs and problems. Many of the men in his fleet broke down and cried on hearing of his death.
Arguments against
  • He could be ruthless.
    When Naples was retaken after a French invasion supported by local rebels, led by Admiral Caracciolo, Cardinal Ruffo offered the rebels a safe passage to France. On hearing this, Nelson declared the amnesty not valid and insisted that the rebels stood trial. Caracciolo was tried by local officers and sentenced to death. Nelson had the sentence carried out immediately, ignoring the court’s request that Caracciolo should be allowed 24 hours to prepare himself. He also approved a huge number of further executions, despite pleas for clemency from the Queen of Naples and Lady Hamilton.
  • He was arrogant and a self publicist.
    After a great battle, Nelson would write down his own account of it and send it to his friends in England. They would send this account to the popular press (the newspapers). Often, this was the account of the battle that was believed.
  • He was a strict disciplinarian.
    He believed that his orders should be obeyed straight away. He made many enemies among local merchants by enforcing customs laws.
  • Nelson 'chose' what orders to obey.
    Although strict about his own orders, at the Battle of Copenhagen, when his superior officer ordered the recall of the squadron, Nelson said to his second in command, Foley "You know, Foley, I have only one eye; I have a right to be blind sometimes." The battle continued.
  • He put others at risk in his pursuit of personal glory.
    He took unnecessary risks. In his almost suicidal search for personal glory he put at risk not only his own life but also those of others serving with him.

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