Admiral Lord Nelson: England’s Greatest Naval Hero

Maestro de estrategia bélica, célebre por su temeraria valentía, Horatio Nelson se erigió en héroe nacional tras sus brillantes victorias contra franceses y españoles en las guerras revolucionarias y napoleónicas. Desde las alturas, su figura preside Trafalgar Square.

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From his humble beginnings as the sixth child of a Norfolk clergyman, Horatio Nelson rose to become one of the greatest figures in British military history. His brilliant victories over the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte, and his uncompromising courage, despite his disabilities, have established him as a symbol of national identity.  

Childhood in the Navy

Nelson was born on 29 September 1758. Aged twelve, he joined the navy as an apprentice, and was seasick on his first day. In fact, he suffered from seasickness all his life! Made captain at just twenty, Nelson spent his first service managing Britain’s commercial interests — including slavery — in the West Indies. In 1787, he married Fanny Nisbet, a judge’s daughter, in the Caribbean. 

Britain at War

In 1793, Britain entered the French Revolutionary Wars. These were conflicts between France, allied with Spain, and other European countries, including Britain, resulting from the French Revolution. Now in command of the HMSAgamemnon, Nelson served in the Mediterranean, and would help Britain establish naval superiority over the French and Spanish fleets 


At the Battle of Calvi in 1794, Nelson lost the sight in his right eye. In 1797, he was knighted after his major role in the British victory at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. A few months later, at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, surgeons had to amputate his badly wounded right arm, without anaesthetics. He only complained that the surgeons’ knives were too cold!

The Battle of the Nile

Nelson went on to win a famous victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, destroying Napoleon’s fleet in a daring manoeuvre where he attacked unexpectedly from the narrow stretch of water between the French ships and the shore, with the land only metres away and at the risk of the English ships running aground. The French suffered thousands of casualties, and Nelson stopped Napoleon’s attempt to create a direct trade route to India, protecting Britain’s growing empire. 

Nelson was then posted to Naples, where he met and fell in love with Lady Emma Hamilton, wife of the ambassador, Sir William Hamilton. The couple moved to England in 1803 and lived together openly — along with Emma’s aged husband. Nelson ignored the monumental scandal, even having a baby with Emma.


In 1803 the so-called Napoleonic Wars broke out between Napoleon’s France (again allied with Spain) and various European countries. Nelson, now a vice-admiral and a viscount, was made commander-in-chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet. Napoleon started to prepare an enormous force in northern France to invade England. On 21 October 1805, the British fleet engaged the French and Spanish ships at the Battle of Trafalgar, off Cadiz in the south of Spain. Nelson, on HMS Victory, won a famous victory, destroying the enemy fleets and forcing Napoleon to call off the invasion. 


Tragically, though, Nelson was killed in the battle by a fatal gunshot wound. His death provoked grief on a scale never seen before in Britain, and his feats quickly entered British folklore. Today Nelson appears immortalised in stone on the top of Nelson’s Column, a fifty-two-metre-high monument in Trafalgar Square in Central London. With a bird’s-eye view of the British capital, Nelson stands tall as one of Britain’s great national heroes.  

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