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A bit of British Culture
Place in history

Britain is marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005.

The victory sealed Horatio Lord Nelson's status as a national hero, ended the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's ambitions to invade England and led to more than 100 years of British naval domination.
Key Figures

By 1805 Nelson (far left) already had a reputation as a brilliant naval commander.

But across Europe Napoleon (top right) was enjoying a string of military victories.

Fighting alongside Nelson at Trafalgar was Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood (bottom right). Commanding the combined French and Spanish fleet was French Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve.
Why Trafalgar?

With his plans to invade England frustrated, Napoleon had turned his attentions to Austria.

To support the new campaign, Napoleon ordered the combined French and Spanish fleets sheltering in Cadiz to sail into the Mediterranean.

But waiting outside the port, near the Cape of Trafalgar, was Nelson.
Ship of the line

Nelson's flagship HMS Victory was typical of ships of her day, although she was already 40 years old at Trafalgar.

It took six years and around 6,000 trees - mostly oak - to build Victory. She was 227ft (69.3m) long, 51ft (15.8m) at her widest point and armed with 104 guns.

The crew of more than 800 included around 100 officers of various ranks.
 The Nelson Touch

Tactics in sea battles at this time usually involved opposing fleets forming parallel lines and firing broadsides at each other.

At Trafalgar, Nelson split his fleet in two and sailed at right angles into the French and Spanish line, seeking to split it up, as illustrated in this contemporary print (left).

Dubbed 'The Nelson Touch' by Nelson himself, the tactic - also known as 'crossing the T' - was not new but had never been used as a deliberate battle plan before.
 England expects

Part of the legend of Trafalgar rests on a flag signal sent by Nelson to his fleet (left), the last before he ordered them to engage the enemy.

The rousing command was spelled out using sets of flags that corresponded to words in a code book, of which each ship had a copy.

Only 'duty' was not included in the book, so had to be spelled out using the flags that represented each letter.
Battle is joined

The battle unfolded exactly according to Nelson's plan, with Collingwood's southerly column routing the enemy rear.

Nelson smashed through the centre of their line, cutting it in two and preventing the northerly section from joining the battle.

Of 33 French and Spanish ships at the start, 18 were either captured or destroyed.
Nelson's fate

As the two fleets engaged at close quarters, Victory became entangled with the French ship Redoutable.

A sniper in her rigging fired at the British ship and hit Nelson, pacing the upper deck.

Mortally wounded, he was carried below deck where he survived for several hours, long enough to learn the battle had been won.

His last words were: 'Thank God I have done my duty.'
 Lasting legacy

Nelson's death cast a shadow over his victory, but it ensured his legendary status in Britain.

He was given a state funeral and later commemorated with a London landmark that was for years the focus of Trafalgar Day celebrations, like those on the 100th anniversary (left).

For details of the National Maritime Museum's Nelson & Napoleon exhibition, 7 July to 13 November 2005, see www.nmm.ac.uk
© AmberMedia 2021 Visitor Count = 16725

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