Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trafalgar and the Making of the English Hero

October 21 marks the 205th anniversay of the Battle at Trafalgar. British ships engaged the combined French and Spanish fleets to end the day decisively in favor of the British.   Adam Nicolson, author of "Men Of Honour: Trafalgar and the Making of the English Hero", takes us on board these ships describing in detail how war was fought in 1805. He builds a case for this battle being a turning-point in British history.

The book is divided into portions of time starting early in the moring until the final mopping up. Chapters of the book are named for the characteristics that made up the heroes of English history and especially the hero of that particular day, Horatio Nelson.

Nicolson details the men and their lives right down to the the captain's quarters, how they wore their hair, their table manners and more. He draws in words a picture of the men preparing for a day of battle with letters to their loved ones penned just hours and minutes before the noise of battle. He takes us on a quest to discover what made these Men of Honour.

What could produce the fighting spirit that these men showed? Why was the same spirit not present in the French or the Spanish? How did Nelson deal with his sailors and officers to get from them what was necessary to make that battle theirs?

When making up my art journal for this book the background became a faded British flag. On October 21, 1805 the Union Jack was anything but faded; over the past 200 years the might and power of the British Empire has dimmed.

To the right hand of Nelson you will see a fleur de lys, not golden, but tarnished. France was no longer what it once had been. Nelson had the French in range throughout his career meeting them in one battle after another until he pretty much descimated the fleet here at Trafalgar.

To the left of Nelson is a barrel which was the mode of trasport to carry his body home to England where he received a royal burial in St. Paul's.

On the morning of the battle Nelson wrote in his journals and prepared letters to his loved ones at home. Of significance is his morning prayer.

“MAY THE GREAT GOD, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious victory: and may no misconduct, in anyone, tarnish it: and may humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British Fleet.  For myself Individually, I commit my life to Him who made me and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend.  AMEN AMEN AMEN”

Looking for heroes?  This book tells you how to measure for a hero. 

Who is your modern day hero? heroine?  What is it about them that make them above the cut?

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