Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson
"England expects that every man will do his duty".
With these words Nelson successfully inspired his squadron before the Battle of Trafalgar. Nelson was a complex leader, a fearless warrior who balanced a personal longing for honour and glory, with a compassion and respect for his men.
Born in Bunham Thorpe, Norfolk, he joined the Navy aged 12. He became a captain at the age of 20 and saw service in the West Indies, Baltic and Canada. He married Francis Nisbet in 1787 in Nevis and returned to England with his bride to spend the next five years on half-pay, frustrated at not being at sea.
When Britain entered the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793, Nelson was given command of the Agamemnon. While serving in the Mediterranean, he helped capture Corsica and battled at Calvi, where he lost his right eye. He was again wounded and lost his right arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (1797).
As a commander he was known for bold action and the occasional disregard of orders from his seniors. This defiance brought him victories against the Spanish off Cape Vincent in 1797, and at the Battle of Copenhagen four years later, where he ignored orders to cease action by putting his telescope to his blind eye and claiming he couldn't see the signal.
During the Battle of the Nile in 1798, Nelson successfully destroyed Napoleon's fleet and his attempt to forge an overland trade route to India. During his next posting to Naples he met and fell in love with Emma, Lady Hamilton. Although they were both married they considered each other soul mates and Emma bore him a child, Horatia, in 1801. During the same year he was also promoted to Vice-Admiral.
From 1794 to 1805, under Nelson's leadership the British Navy proved its complete supremacy over the French, although on land Napoleon still had grand plans for an invasion of England. To do this he needed control of the Channel. "Let us be masters of the straits for six hours" he declared "and we will be rulers of the world".
While Napoleon's troops waited for his ships to cover the landings, Nelson sailed from Portsmouth in his flagship Victory. On 21st October 1805 Nelson spotted the French fleet at Cape Trafalgar. He put on his admiral's uniform with all his decorations, and hoisted the now famous signal "England expects that every man will due his duty". With Nelson leading one column of ships and Admiral Collingham leading the other, the British ships chopped through the enemy. The fleet was outnumbered by the French, but its ships were smaller and faster. The broadsides they poured from close range, into the hulls and even the cabin windows, were devastating. Fewer than five hundred British seamen were killed, against some four thousand four hundred French and Spanish before they were forced to surrender.
In the hour of triumph the Victory was locked against the French ship Redoubtable and Nelsons uniform made him a perfect target for a marksman in the enemy's rigging. A bullet passed through his shoulder and chest into his spine, and he was carried below decks to die. His body was brought home in a brandy filled casket and buried with great pageantry at St Paul's Cathedral, in a coffin made from the mast of the French flagship
By always leading from the front and being willing to accept the same danger that they faced, Nelson instilled great personal loyalty in his men. By always having complete confidence in his ability they were turned into the greatest naval fighting force of the era and in doing so managed to frustrate all of Napoleon's plans for complete European domination. Without Nelson there would have been no Waterloo and no Europe as we know it today.