History's HEROES? 1758 - 1805

Horatio Nelson

Who was he?

Things you may not know about Horatio Nelson

Nelson's great-great uncle was the first Prime Minister of England. More
Horatio Nelson was also known as Horace Nelson. More
He was a sickly baby and was baptised quickly because of fears over his health. More
When he arrived at his first ship he paced about all day ignored by everyone. More
Nelson was a life-long sufferer from seasickness. More
He almost died trying to shoot a polar bear. More
When he was 17 he had a vision that he would be a hero during a serious illness. More
He suffered many illnesses on his voyages but always wanted to return to sea. More
Nelson's first love was Mary Simpson. More
When Nelson married Frances, the Prince William Henry (later King William) gave the bride away. More
Nelson was a bit of a 'spin doctor'. More
His stepson saved his life. More
His method of command was known as 'the Nelson touch'. More
He had a dry sense of humour - often at his own expense. More
One of the secrets of Nelson's success as a commander was that he brought his subordinates into his confidence. More
Nelson gave rise to the saying ‘to turn a blind eye’. More
His affair with Emma Hamilton resulted in the birth of two children. More
He was known for leading from the front and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. More
Nelson lost most of his teeth after contracting scurvy in 1782. More
Horatio and Emma adopted their own child as an orphan. More
Nelson never wore an eye patch. More
He wanted victory at any cost could sometimes be reckless. More
He ignored orders and took risks. More
He cared for the ordinary sailors and his captains (his "band of brothers"). More
Nelson's body was pickled in brandy. More
Nelson's coffin was given to him as a present. More
Emma Hamilton was refused permission to attend Nelson's funeral. More
One of Nelson's last wishes was that Horatia should take the name Nelson. More
Soon after Horatio’s death Emma and her daughter spent 10 months in a prison cell. More

Horatio Nelson in brief

my greatest happiness is to serve my gracious King and Country and I am envious only of glory; for if it be a sin to covet glory I am the most offending soul alive.

Horatio Nelson was the most famous admiral of the Napoleonic Wars who has been celebrated ever since as the greatest sea warrior in British history.

Although a small and sickly child, Nelson went to sea when he was just 12 years old. Despite persistent seasickness, his career flourished as he moved from ship to ship in the East Indies and the Caribbean, showing a flair for naval strategy. He became one of the youngest ever captains in the Royal Navy.

He saw active service in the American War of Independence, in the wars of the French Revolution and in battles in the East Indies, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, winning the hearts of the English people reading about his exploits.

Nelson was also one of the most loved leaders amongst the seamen of the Royal Navy and fought side by side with his crews during many of the battles. However, his personal life came to be as well known as his military career. His left his marriage to Lady Nelson, formerly Frances Nisbet, to live with his mistress, Lady Hamilton, and their child.

The most famous battles of Horatio Nelson's career, the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar, came later in his career, when he was a senior commander. Nothing created the figure we recognise as Nelson, on monuments around the world, more than the Battle of Trafalgar.  This was the greatest naval victory in British history. Before the battle Nelson sent a signal in semaphore to his fleet:  "England expects that every man will do his duty." Nelson died in the battle; his last words were "Thank God I have done my duty." When the news of his death reached England, the king wept, as did thousands of ordinary citizens, who lined the route of his funeral.

Throughout his naval career, Nelson was wounded many times in combat, losing an arm and the sight in his right eye. As a person he could be vain, thoughtless and even, at times, reckless in his ruthless desire for recognition and glory. He showed little pity to those who crossed him. But he was also enthusiastic, eager and patriotic, as well as brave. He was noted for his ability to inspire and bring out the best in his men. His qualities, good and bad, set him apart from his contemporaries and are the reason that he is still remembered today.

Nelson Picture Gallery

Source documents

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