Thursday, October 21, 2010

History: Trafalgar Day

On this day in 1805, the British fleet commanded by Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson engaged a combined flotilla of French and Spanish men-of-war off Cape Trafalgar. In the most decisive naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars, Nelson’s Navy soundly defeated the enemy effectively ending any hopes Napoleon may have had for supremacy at sea or invasion of Britain.

Here is an excerpt from the daily log of HMS Euryalus made after the battle by her Captain, Charles Collingwood:

The action began at twelve o’clock, by the leading ships of the column breaking through the enemy’s line, the Commander in Chief about the tenth ship from the vanguard, the Second in Command about the twelfth from the rear, leaving the van of the enemy unoccupied; the succeeding ships breaking through, in all parts, astern of their leaders, and engaging the enemy at the muzzles of their guns; the conflict was severe. The enemy’s ships were fought with a gallantry highly honourable to their Officers, but the attack on them was irresistible and it pleased the Almighty Disposer of all events to grant his Majesty’s arms a complete and glorious victory.

About three P.M. many of the enemy’s ships having struck their colours, their line gave way. Admiral Gravina, with ten ships joining their frigates to leeward, stood towards Cadiz. The five headmost ships in the van tacked and standing to the Southward, to windward of the British line, were engaged, and the sternmost of them taken: the others went off, leaving his Majesty’s squadron nineteen ships of the line.

After such a Victory, it may appear unnecessary to enter into encomiums on the particular parts taken by the several Commanders. The conclusion says more on the subject than I have the language to express. The spirit which animated all was the same; when all exerted themselves zealously in their country’s service, all deserve that their high merits should stand recorded; and never was high merit more conspicuous than in the battle I have described.

Of course Nelson, who insisted both on commanding HMS Victory on deck and wearing his full Admiral’s uniform complete with medals, was shot and killed during the battle. In a few short hours a hero made martyr became a legend. As the epitaph on his monument in Guildhall, London puts it:

The period of Nelson’s fame can only be the end of time.

For a very personal experience of all things Nelson, visit
Mark Coggins’ blog post from whence I collected the picture at the header of Saturday’s post. I enjoyed Mark’s ruminations on the wax figure of the Admiral at the Nelson Museum.

Want more in depth and fascinating first hand information about the Battle of
Trafalgar? Visit The Dear Surprise and find a wealth of engrossing information on all things Royal Navy and O’Brian. You may just lose yourself for the day.

Header: A modern imagining of Nelson aboard Victory before Trafalgar


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! And a belated happy Trafalgar Day! Huzzah!

Although with your French ancestry, I would think you would have somewhat mixed feelings about this battle, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! It's true that being French makes Trafalgar a bit of a stretch in the "celebration" column. But regardless of "what you are" there is no way to not give the nod to Nelson. Huzzah!