Battle of Trafalgar: The End of a Legend
The last of the great battles fought by Nelson was also his last. Right until he breathed his ultimate breath, the Viscount was heard giving orders to his crew.
During the engagement at Trafalgar, on 21 October 1805, the Royal Navy annihilated the greatest threat to British security for 200 years, but lost Britain’s national hero in the process.(Battle of Trafalgar, BBC).
By now Nelson had devised a strategic method of naval maneuvering which verged on the terrible. “Annihilation” is what he called the counteroffensive against Napoleon. Succeed he did, and this accomplished the British retaining hegemony of the Seas for more than 200 years.
In his long and eventful naval career, Nelson had lost an arm and an eye. Perhaps, he preferred to die at the moment of supreme victory rather than live on in a disabled state. As was the precedent before any battle; Nelson had had apprehensions about wounds and death.
At dawn on the 21st October, 1805, Nelson gave command to attack; with the Franco-Spanish entendre sandwiched between the British Navy and the Cape of Trafalgar. He made a conspicuous figure on the decks of the Victory in his dress uniform and decorations.
The battle progressed largely according to Nelson’s plan
At 11:45, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson sent the famous flag signal, “England expects that every man will do his duty“, from his flagship HMS Victory. This version became so prevalent that it is recorded on Nelson’s tomb in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The foreboding that Nelson had about his own demise led him to draft his will below decks. In it he wrote: “I leave Lady Hamilton, and my adopted daughter Horatia, as a legacy to my country.” (Nelson’will) Unfortunately, in spite of his efforts; Lady Hamilton died in penury.
Thereafter, he paced the deck in the balmy morning light, issuing directions and joking with his men. His religious background compelled him to compose a prayer before engaging in battle.
The French and Spanish navies were both engaged by the British
In the melee of the battle, it was difficult to make anything out. About an hour into the battle, Nelson was hit by a shell, and collapsed on the deck, bathed in blood. He was taken to the lowest deck.
Even with his spine shot through, Nelson had the presence of mind to cover his face with a handkerchief. He was not about to let the morale of his ships’ men falter at seeing their leader shot.
In his last moments, the hoarse cheering of the men on decks could be heard, and Nelson came to know that they had been victorious. To the purser he said, “It is nonsense, Mr. Burke, to suppose I can live. My sufferings are great but they will soon be over.”
At about 4:30 in the afternoon, Admiral Nelson breathed his last, still aboard his beloved Victory.
The news of the victory at Trafalgar was greeted at home with a mix of sadness and jubilation. Britain had dispelled the French threat and retained mastery over the seas. But it had cost the nation dearly, and Horatio Nelson was no more. (End of a Legend)
I can only view the events as recounted in history
The ones shadowing Nelson’s death were ominous, as if Nature itself was in turmoil over this irreparable loss to mankind. The day after saw the seas all roiled up, with strong gales lashing the British ships.
Lord Nelson’s remains were preserved with great care and reverence on board his ship till the 21st of December, 1805, before being brought for his burial on land.
Nelson’s death was a crucial and significant event not only in the history of Britain, but also of the world. In my eyes, this was the debacle of all times, since my hero had gone, leaving in his wake a multitude of mourners, and innumerable testimonials about his courage and seamanship.
Each to his own, I say!
While I have hero-worshipped Viscount Nelson; biographers have taken opposing views about his qualities, outlining the positive as well as the not so positive ones. However, his qualities, good or bad, made him what he was, and make him a legend even to this day.
There is no doubt in my mind that Nelson epitomized bravery and the ‘can do’ attitude, notwithstanding the fact that he rode roughshod over anyone and everything to get what he wanted. A highly inspirational and charismatic personality combined with a touch of megalomania dubbed his ‘the Nelson touch‘.
Nelson remains a controversial person even today, with various schools of thought swaying in favor of or against his positive traits. (Nelson’s controversial nature).
A poll conducted by the BBC in 2002 named Nelson 9th in the list of The Greatest Britons. (Battle of the Britons) . Be that as it may, Viscount Lord Nelson remains my favorite of all times, and my quest to discover more and more about him remains unending.
With an aim of delving more into Nelson and the individual behind the facade, I am going to undertake a trip to Nelson’s Island…Gotcha there! Didn’t I? Yes, there is an island named after him, and I just need to see it for myself. Talk to you later about it…