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Horatio Nelson: Hero of the Royal Navy on the Sea but a Cad on Land


A legend of the Royal Navy. He was bold and a genius in command of his ships.

Admiral Horatio Nelson

Admiral Horatio Nelson

Battle of Trafalgar 1805

Battle of Trafalgar 1805

Early Life of Horatio Nelson

He was born September 1758 in Norfolk, U.K., the sixth of 11 children. By 12, Horatio joined the Royal Navy spent the first 21 years in North America and the West Indies yearning for action. While in the West Indies, he met and married Frances Nisbet, a widow with a small son, Josiah. Horatio and his family returned to London in 1792, where he began commanding ships of his own.

Horatio was bold, vain, egotistical. and ruthless in battle. He did not go unscathed in his battles. At the Battle of Corsica, he lost sight of his right eye, and in the Battle of Santa Cruz, Horatio lost his right arm.

The biggest battle for Britain was in the Battle of Trafalgar, fought off the coast of Spain. Horatio was on the ship Victory directing his ships. Through superior training and discipline, his crews divided the French fleet and won the battle. The Royal Navy losses were 450 dead, 1250 wounded, but the loser had 4000 killed and 3300 wounded. The Royal Navy lost only one ship while the French lost 22 ships.

While on the deck of his ship Victory, Horatio was mortally wounded on October 21, 1805, with his last words, "Thank God I have done my duty."

Horatio received a state funeral and is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, London. Because of Horatio's many accomplishments, he gave Britain control of the seas for 100 years. There is no question owes a debt to Horatio Nelson.

Battle of Trafalgar

Battle of Trafalgar

Battles of Admiral Nelson

Horatio was instrumental in many battles fighting the French and Spanish for the Royal Navy. It is no wonder he was a hero to all of Britain. Horatio had the respect of his crews as he was decisive in his strategies in battle. Even with his injuries from fighting, he never wavered in his stealth mode.

Here are a few of his battles:

  • Battle of St. Vincent
  • Battle of Corsica. Horatio lost sight in his right eye.
  • Battle of Copenhagen
  • Battle of Santa Cruz. Horatio lost his right arm in the battle.
  • Battle of the Nile
  • Battle of Trafalgar. Horatio was fatally shot and died in battle.

The Women in Horatio's Life

Frances also called "Fanny," was born to a wealthy family in the West Indies in 1758. She was orphaned early and then wed Dr. Josiah Nisbet. Together they had a son, Josiah. She met Horatio and married him in 1787. Together they returned to London and set up housekeeping. Throughout their lives, Horatio and Fanny never had any children of their own, and Horatio felt his wife was rather cold and uncaring.

Enter Emma, Lady Hamilton (1765-1915). Lady Hamilton had been a maid and a mistress to Sir William Hamilton. When Horatio received a head wound at the battle of the Nile, Lady Hamilton and her husband took him into their home to nurse him to health. Their affair began in 1798 under Sir Hamilton's nose, who dismissed it. Horatio was in love with Emma and refused even to see Fannie. The scandal was shocked the London Society not because he had a mistress but that he left his wife.

Horatio told Emma to find a place for them, which she did called Merton Place, where she and their daughter Horatia waited for him to return from sea. So many letters had been sent between the two of them professing their love. Eventually, some of those letters were sold at Sotheby for thousands of dollars.

In August 1805, the truce with France was broken, and Horatio was called back to the sea where the Battle of Trafalgar would take place, and Horatio would die. Before he died, he pleaded with the government to take care of his wife and child. Unfortunately for Emma and their daughter, this never happened.

Emma was in deep depression, unable to pay her creditors or keep up their home, and wound up in debtor's prison at King's Bench but released in 1814. She and her daughter Horatia fled to Calis, where Emma died in 1814 penniless and heartbroken. Daughter Hortia nelson married Reverand Phillip Ward and led a quiet life until she died in 1881.

Fanny, however, received a generous pension and died 1831.

Lady Frances Nelson, Wife of Horatio

Lady Frances Nelson, Wife of Horatio

Emma Lady Hamilton,  mistress of Horatio Nelson

Emma Lady Hamilton, mistress of Horatio Nelson

Monuments to Horatio Nelson

Not only have over 2000 books been written about Horatio Nelson, but many monuments, memorials, and pubs in London have been named in his honor. Here are some of his monuments:

  • A memorial in Glasgow Green
  • A monument in Edinburgh
  • A monument in Liverpool
  • A monument in Dublin
  • A monument in Montreal
  • A monument in Barbados

Note that because of the BLM movement, discussions are addressing the removal of some of these monuments. The memorial in Barbados was removed and now placed in the Barbados Museum in the Historic Harbor Area. It was due to slavery in colonial times, although Nelson never owned slaves, never approved using slaves, or participated in capturing or transporting slaves.

Places named in honor of Horatio Nelson include Nelson, New Zealand, Nelson Island, British Columbia, Canada, Nelson Island, Aboukir Bay, and Alexandria, Egypt.

A spectacular film Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World, starring Russell Crowe, was released in 2003, grossing over 150 million US dollars and winning 22 awards.

Master and Commander

Master and Commander


fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 09, 2021:

Brenda, thank you for your visit. I agree that Nelson's mistress surely deserved a pension. She did overall assist Nelson in her way, and they were very happy. He was a hero to Britain and wanted her cared for after he died.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 09, 2021:


This was very interesting.

12 years old seems so young, but then 21 tears seems so long to spend in it.

I'm surprised that during day and age the affair was common knowledge.

Sad how they ended up penniless waiting on him & tossed into that sort of prison.

The one whom he didnt love ended up with everything.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 09, 2021:

Rosina, always grateful for your visit and comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Rosina S Khan on October 09, 2021:

This is a great article about the once-upon-a-time Hero of the royal navy on the sea, Horatio Nelson. I liked reading about his personal life and the battles he fought at sea. I am impressed that numerous books have been written about him and monuments and memorials named in his honor. Thanks for sharing, Fran.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 08, 2021:

Liz, thanks for visiting. Horatio was truly a man of the sea winning so many battles for Britain.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 08, 2021:

Pamela, as always I appreciate your visit and comments. Thanks so much.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 08, 2021:

Miebakagh, thanks for visiting and I agree pension should be paid to his mistress. I appreciate your visit.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 08, 2021:

The United Kingdom government did a great mistake by not paying certain percentages of Admiral Nelson's entitlements to Frances, his mistress. That was within his will before embarking on his last war. The government has not any right to change her servants will.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 08, 2021:

This article is an interesting account for the life of Horatio Nelson, Fran. I can't imagine entering the Navy at age 12, but times were different then. I enjoyed learning about all the particulars of his life as I only knew about some of the battles.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 08, 2021:

I grew up learning about Nelson's exploits at sea. His private life was something that I heard about later. This is a good biographical article.

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