Wednesday, 1 June 2011

ABC Wednesday T is for Trafalgar

File:Victory by Constable.JPG
Watercolour of HMS Victory by  John Constable, 1805, now in the V&A
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Trafalgar Day is a celebration of the Royal Navy’s victory over the French and Spanish fleets off the south-west coast of Spain, just west of Cape Trafalgar. The Battle of Trafalgar was fought on 21st October, 1805 and was one of the decisive battles of the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 – 1815. It established Britain’s dominance as a naval power for one hundred years and was the final defeat of Napoleon’s plans to invade Britain.

Twenty-seven British ships under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson aboard his flagship HMS Victory engaged and defeated a combined force of thirty-three French and Spanish ships. No British ships were lost but the enemy lost twenty-two vessels.

During his long naval career Horatio Nelson had lost an arm and an eye. It seems that he expected to die in this encounter, having made farewells to his friends and officers and indeed he was fatally wounded. When he led the Victory into battle he was wearing his dress uniform and decorations. Maybe this was to inspire his men.

Nelson's famous signal, 'England expects that every man will do his duty.'
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The signal flying from HMS Victory, in dry dock in Portsmouth, at the bicentennial celebrations in 2005
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

There were light airs in the Atlantic, making engagement difficult for several hours. When Nelson raised the signal at 11:45, 'England expects that every man will do his duty,‘ a great cheer went up from the sailors. At 1:30 Nelson was struck with a musket bullet that went through his spine and lodged in his back. He was carried below deck and died three hours later, having been given the news that the Franco-Spanish force had been defeated. His body was placed in a cask of brandy to preserve it on the homeward journey. He was 47.

His concerns for the welfare of his beloved Lady Hamilton and their daughter Horatia were well-founded. While England rejoiced in the victory, honouring his brother and wife, they were ignored and lived an impoverished life.

Trafalgar Day is still observed by Commonwealth navies. Plans to make it a public holiday were first mooted by John Major when he was Prime Minister. The Cameron-Clegg coalition is reported to be considering it again.

Trot along to ABC Wednesday to see more Ts, and say Thank you to the Talented Denise Nesbitt and her Truly Terrific Team who organise this weekly meme.


  1. "T" could also stand for "Terrific," which would be an apt description of your post.:-)

  2. I am sure I learned about this battle somewhere! I do know of Trafalgar Square and AM familiar with Admiral Nelson. You really are a history buff.

  3. Only the second or third battle I was aware of in your litany. Still, interesting stuff.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  4. And Trafalgar Square too? Interesting naval history, as always.
    Hope you're having a nice week.

  5. Never actually seen the signal before, I do remember reading that a rather tetchy Admiral Collingwood said "I wish Nelson would stop signalling. We all know what to do". What a shame about Lady Hamilton and his daughter.

  6. So sad about Admiral Nelson's family. So sad about Admiral Nelson — how painful it must have been to have a bullet lodged in his spine.
    A famous and amazing battle, Janice. Great post for T day.
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  7. Because of this post, I looked up Lady Hamilton. Wow! What an amazing life. No wonder they made a movie about her. I don't think they put everything in it though.

  8. Fascinating post, as always. I love the signals you provide. In our age of internet this is such a forgotten concept (at least for me).

  9. Wonderfully well written. I learn so much here!

  10. What did they do with the brandy after poor heroic Nelson was removed from it?

    Great post. Very informative. And so sad that his wife and daughter couldn't share in his victory.

    (funnily enough the Word Verification is 'flessic'. Fles being Dutch for bottle. Could that be the answer to my question about the brandy? The thought does make me slightly sick ;-))

  11. Excellent post, I always learn new facts from your post. I think Trafalgar Day should be a public holiday.

  12. That is soooo interesting. Mummy works at the University of Greenwich and they have lots and lots of interesting stuff all about Nelson and Trafalgor. They have a place called The Painted Hall which is beautiful and it's were Nelson's body was laid to rest in state. pl
    Greenwich is so full of history that mummy always has plenty to do in her lunch break :)

  13. This is really interesting, so much history. Mummy work at the University of Greenwich where there is a lot of information about Nelson and Trafalgor. They have a place called the Painted Hall where Nelsons body was laid to rest in state
    Mummy says there is so much history around Greenwich that she has plenty to do in her lunch breaks :)xx

  14. Admiral Lord Nelson is our hero (hubby and me are both ex Royal Navy). He was an incredible tactician. We celebrate Trafalgar Day, and of course there is always "Nelson's Blood" (rum)!
    Jane x


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