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Berthier
12-23-2011, 04:35
Ok time to open another can of worms.

Nelson entered the battle of Trafalgar wearing full Admirals uniform and decorations. He looked like a Christmas tree. Even his officers begged him to tone it down a bit fearing (accurately) he would be an easy target for enemy marksmen. Walking the quarterdeck he would have been easily identifiable even in the heat of battle. This "bravado" for want of a better word was not uncommon during the period, Murat would wear the most outrageously coloured uniforms in battle to draw attention to himself, many officers would wear their decorations in battle.

The modern way of war would never allow such a display of pomp on the battlefield, in fact officers and enlisted men look remarkable similar from a distance in today's world. It could be argued that this is due to the lethality of modern weaponry making such displays suicidal. I wonder if that was not really the case even two hundred years ago, soldiers/marines were trained to target officers, whether on land or sea. To thus go into a naval battle in full regalia and stand in the open whilst your ship engages the enemy as closely as you can get a ship to do so is surely just as suicidal. It cant have been about Nelson's control over the battle as this pretty much ended as soon as the flagship was closely engaged, few if any signals could be made and any that were would be difficult for other ships to see. "Engage the enemy more closely" hardly smacks of great leadership. So what was this display all about?

Vanity? Tempting the fates? The need to be remembered forever? Death wish? To encourage the crew...well they weren't really his crew they were Hardy's and they were probably busy enough not to need any further encouraging.

My personal view is that the primary factor was ego..I can't argue with the success of his legend but a little more discretion and he may have lived long enough to enjoy it.

I can hear the RN swords leaving their scabbards already.

David Manley
12-23-2011, 04:48
This "bravado" for want of a better word was not uncommon during the period,

I think you summed it up quite nicely there.

David Manley
12-23-2011, 04:48
This "bravado" for want of a better word was not uncommon during the period,

I think you summed it up quite nicely there.

csadn
12-23-2011, 16:36
Vanity? Tempting the fates? The need to be remembered forever? Death wish? To encourage the crew...well they weren't really his crew they were Hardy's and they were probably busy enough not to need any further encouraging.

I wrote a story a while back, based on the "death wish" theory:

Nelson was in deep yogurt with the King, due to his carrying-on with Emma Hamilton (there's at least one recorded instance of the King blowing off Nelson at the time); the King did not approve of Hamilton, or that Nelson had essentially dumped Frances Nisbet for her. So, if he comes home, he has to deal with that -- and the King holds all the cards.

Moreover, if Trafalgar succeeded as Nelson had hoped, what then? There would be no more fleet actions. Nothing but the incredible tedium of blockade duty -- no chance for glory in battle, no prize money, and (a little-known fact) Nelson was almost-always seasick. In short, for a man of action, the future looked like hell-on-earth (or rather, hell-on-water).

And Nelson was the son of a churchman -- so suicide is *right* out.

But -- what if he were to be killed in action? Especially at the height of his success? "Of the dead, speak no ill" -- his name would live on, unsullied (mostly) by the Hamilton business. And of course his last wishes would be honored, thus securing Hamilton's -- and his daughter's -- fortune in the world (one of Nelson's rare instances of being completely wrong...).

So, Nelson takes every possible step to ensure he does not leave the battle alive -- leading one of the assault columns; taking as much fire as possible; finding a much-smaller enemy SoL to park next to (one where the topmast sharpshooters are that much closer to the quarterdeck of _Victory_); and basically wearing an outfit which say "Yo -- over here -- Officer In The Open". In the modern vernacular, this is called "suicide by cop".

In the story, a written confession is found in Nelson's portable desk; there is then much argument over whether this document should ever see the light of day, or should it be buried so Nelson's image remains untarnished. (Can you guess this was written in response to the modern practice of trying to find the flaws in every hero of every age? :) )

Mark Barker
01-06-2012, 15:22
Sorry not to reply - still catching up with the holiday backlog.

I think the death-wish theory has been pretty effectively canned by more recent Nelson biographers, particularly the late Colin White.

Immediately before the climax of the Trafalgar Campaign Nelson exchanged rings with Emma at a small church, and he had Horatia to live for as well. While I don't think he feared death, he certainly feared going blind - his sight beginning to fail in his undamaged eye.

As David correctly says, acts of bravado on the quarterdeck were very much expected at the time - certainly a show of a cool disregard for danger.

The story about the full Admiral's uniform and decorations would be good if it were true - on the day he wore the same, rather worn 'undress' uniform of a Vice Admiral (he never made full Admiral !) he wore throughout the campaign. This was plain and undecorated, apart from facsimiles of his orders sewn onto the chest in silver thread. Even this was too obvious for some of the officers, and he did indeed reply "this is no time to be switching a coat !".

The coat survived and is in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, complete with bullet hole in the shoulder and the musket ball that killed him.

What Nelson meant of course, was this is no time to be seen by the men to be trying to hide himself - Nelson was famous for his personal bravery and the effect on the morale of the crew would be unthinkable for him.

As to the idea of parking next to a much smaller SOL - well he parked next to the French flagship (80) - the biggest ship they had present !

In our reconstruction we did consider the possibility that he would go for the Santisima Trinidad, but remember that Victory had the wheel shot away and was being steered by emergency ropes on the tiller - with the loss of the mizzen and other rigging damage turning capability was much reduced. In the end he did not much care where he broke though - he left the choice to Hardy ...

Nelson's reputation was certainly augmented by dying at the point of his greatest victory - he did not have the long years of peace to dabble in politics or for subsequent events to take the shine off like Wellesley.

Best wishes,

Mark Barker
The Inshore Squadron

Berthier
01-06-2012, 22:46
Mark quite correct on the uniform and rank, my wording was particularly lax in this case. I had meant full uniform, not full admiral's uniform. Again correct on him wearing embroidered images of his medals (the originals were presumably too precious to wear and too easily damaged or lost).

Mark Barker
01-07-2012, 11:00
Daniel,

No problem - he was in proper uniform, the 'undress' rig is sort of normal working clothes while full dress is reserved for official functions.

I understand that the embroidery thing was pretty much standard practice for exactly the reasons you describe, the actual medals etc would be worn as part of the 'dress' uniform.

Despite Nelson's notorious vanity he once formed a poor opinion against an officer (Alexander Ball) for his conspicuously wearing golden epaulettes while ashore. He changed his opinion of Ball when Ball's ship (the Alexander) refused to obey his orders to cast off a tow line in a storm after Nelson's flagship (Vanguard) lost a mast. Nelson was impressed and Ball became one of the famous "Band of Brothers" who would later defeat the French fleet at the Nile.

Best wishes,

Mark Barker
The Inshore Squadron

csadn
01-07-2012, 15:44
Despite Nelson's notorious vanity he once formed a poor opinion against an officer (Alexander Ball) for his conspicuously wearing golden epaulettes while ashore. He changed his opinion of Ball when Ball's ship (the Alexander) refused to obey his orders to cast off a tow line in a storm after Nelson's flagship (Vanguard) lost a mast. Nelson was impressed and Ball became one of the famous "Band of Brothers" who would later defeat the French fleet at the Nile.

Ah, yes -- if memory serves, Ball's exact response was "I feel confident that I can bring you in safe; I therefore must not, and by the help of Almighty God I will not, leave you!" (Ball later went on to become the British governor of Malta.)