Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Georgian Item of the Week

Georgian Item of the Week Presents:

The Big Three of The Napoleonic Wars: Well, Nel and Nap. Part Two.

Vice-Admiral Horatio, Lord Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson
29 September 1758 - 21st October 1805

Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson
Lemuel Francis Abbot
National Maritime Museum, UK

If Wellington is regarded as Britain’s greatest soldier, another Georgian must be considered their greatest sailor. Horatio Nelson won three of the most decisive naval battles in British history at the Nile (1798), Copenhagen (1801) and of course, Trafalgar, where in 1805 Nelson took his famous and essential victory over the navy of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Born in Norfolk, his father was the Rev. Edmund Nelson and his uncle the Admiral Suckling*. Nelson likewise joined the navy at the age of 12 and by his own merit as well as his Uncle’s interest, was promoted through the ranks to Captain by the age of 21. In 1798, Nelson was responsible for a great victory in a battle with the French navy. The Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Abukir Bay) took place on August 1, 1798 and, as a result, Napoleon's ambition to take the war to the British in India came to an end.

In April 1801 came the Battle of Copenhagen. At that time, the Baltic was a vital source of trade and maritime supplies for Britain. So when in early 1801, under the influence of Russia, the Baltic and Northern states formed themselves into an 'Armed Neutrality of the North' and placed an embargo on British ships, the Government was to take action. Negotiations with the Danes broke down, a key member of the Armed Neutrality, and battle ensued. Nelson’s disregard for too timid higher orders gained the victory.

1805 brought the most famous naval battle in England’s history: Trafalgar. Having abandoned his plans for an invasion of Britain, Napoleon had now started a new campaign against Austria which had to be thwarted. Napoleon's navy, under the leadership of Villeneuve, was an excellent one and the combined forces of the French and the Spanish a formidable opponent. Britian's advantae was The Nelson Touch. Nelson and the British were thunderingly victorious. But the British navy, and the nation, suffered a great loss. Vice-Admiral Nelson was struck by a French sniper’s bullet during the action. Though he lingered long enough to learn that he had won the battle, he died on board his vessel The HMS Victory hours after being wounded, on the 21st of October 1805.

*This name is so memorable that I've often wondered if Austen, who must have known the life story of the nation's living legend, borrowed Suckling for the bragging, affected Mrs Elton's so amusingly named relatives in Emma

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