On this day in 1806, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, KB, and Britain’s greatest naval hero is interred at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. He was noted for his inspirational leadership, superb grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars.
Leading numerous engagements at sea over French, Danish and Spanish fleets, he was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye at Corsica and most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife. He was finally shot and killed during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Port City of Cadiz in 1805.
Nelson was regarded as a highly effective leader, one able to sympathize with the needs of his men. He based his command on love rather than authority, inspiring both his superiors and his subordinates with his considerable courage, commitment and charisma, dubbed “the Nelson touch.” His signal, or motto, “England expects that every man will do his duty,” is quoted, paraphrased and referenced up to the modern day. Numerous monuments, including Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, and the Nelson Monument in Edinburgh, have been created in his memory and his legacy remains highly influential.
After his tragic fall at Trafalgar, Nelson’s body was placed in a cask of brandy mixed with camphor and myrrh, which was then lashed to the HMS Victory’s mainmast and placed under guard. After the sailing back to England, Nelson’s remains were placed in a lead coffin, and that in another wooden one, made from the mast of L’Orient which had been salvaged after the Battle of the Nile. He lay in state in the Painted Hall at Greenwich for three days, before being taken upriver aboard a barge, accompanied by First Naval Lord Hood, chief mourner Sir Peter Parker, and the Prince of Wales.
On January 9, a funeral procession consisting of 32 admirals, over one hundred captains, and an escort of 10,000 sailors took the coffin from the Admiralty to St Paul’s Cathedral. After a four-hour service he was interred in the crypt within a sarcophagus originally carved for Cardinal Wolsey. The sailors charged with folding the flag draping Nelson’s coffin and placing it in the grave instead tore it into fragments, with each taking a piece as a memento.
If one is fortunate enough to visit St. Paul’s, like Westminster, there is no photography permitted inside, and a decidedly solemn air surrounds Nelson’s tomb in particular. Nelson recently ranked 9th in a poll of the 100 greatest Britons, behind John Lennon, and ahead of Oliver Cromwell.
And here, our salty story endeth.