Wars of the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars: Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson

Admiral Nelson
Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Horatio Nelson - Birth:

Horatio Nelson was born at Burnham Thorpe, England on September 29, 1758, to Reverend Edmund Nelson and Catherine Nelson. He was the sixth of eleven children.

Horatio Nelson - Rank & Titles:

At his death in 1805, Nelson held the rank of Vice Admiral of the White in the Royal Navy, as well as the titles of 1st Viscount Nelson of the Nile (English peerage) and Duke of Bronte (Neapolitan peerage).

Horatio Nelson - Personal Life:

Nelson married Frances Nisbet in 1787, while stationed in the Caribbean. The two did not produce any children and the relationship cooled. In 1799, Nelson met Emma Hamilton, the wife of the British ambassador to Naples. The two fell in love and, despite the scandal, lived openly together for the remainder of Nelson's life. They had one child, a daughter named Horatia.

Horatio Nelson - Career:

Entering the Royal Navy in 1771, Nelson swiftly rose through the ranks achieving the rank of captain by the time he was twenty. In 1797, he won great acclaim for his performance at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent where his audacious disobeying of orders led to a stunning British victory over the French.  Following the battle, Nelson was knighted and promoted to rear admiral. Later that year, he participated in an attack on Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands and was wounded in the right arm, forcing its amputation.

In 1798, Nelson, now a rear admiral, was given a fleet of fifteen ships and sent to destroy the French fleet supporting Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. After weeks of searching, he found the French at anchor in Aboukir Bay near Alexandria. Sailing into uncharted waters at night, Nelson's squadron attacked and annihilated the French fleet, destroying all but two of their ships.

This success followed by a promotion to vice admiral in January 1801.  A short time later, in April, Nelson decisively defeated the Danish fleet at the Battle of Copenhagen. This victory broke up the French-leaning League of Armed Neutrality (Denmark, Russia, Prussia, & Sweden) and ensured that a continuous supply of naval stores would reach Britain. After this triumph, Nelson sailed for the Mediterranean where he over saw the blockade of the French coast.

In 1805, after a brief rest ashore, Nelson returned to sea after hearing that the French and Spanish fleets were concentrating at Cádiz. On October 21, the combined French and Spanish fleet was spotted off Cape Trafalgar. Using revolutionary new tactics that he had devised, the Nelson's fleet engaged the enemy and was in the process of achieving his greatest triumph when he was shot by a French marine. The bullet entered his left shoulder and pierced the lung, before lodging against his spine. Four hours later, the admiral died, just as his fleet was completing the victory.

Horatio Nelson - Legacy:

Nelson’s victories ensured that the British controlled the seas for the duration of the Napoleonic Wars and prevented the French from ever attempting to invade Britain. His strategic vision and tactical flexibility set him apart from his contemporaries and have been emulated in the centuries since his death. Nelson possessed an innate ability to inspire his men to achieve beyond what they thought possible. This “Nelson Touch” was a hallmark of his command style and has been sought by subsequent leaders.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "Wars of the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars: Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/vice-admiral-horatio-nelson-2361155. Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). Wars of the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars: Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/vice-admiral-horatio-nelson-2361155 Hickman, Kennedy. "Wars of the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars: Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/vice-admiral-horatio-nelson-2361155 (accessed May 31, 2023).