Nelson: Britain's Great Naval Hero (2020) Movie Script

The River Thames, January 1806.
All of London has turned out
to witness the most elaborate
funeral procession in living memory.
A broken body is being escorted home
with the pomp and ceremony
usually reserved for royalty.
The man who three months ago, gave
his life in his hour of triumph
at The Battle of Trafalgar
is laid to rest with a state funeral
at St Paul's Cathedral
and in this moment,
Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson
becomes a cult figure, representing,
for many, victory and glory.
Nelson's funeral is
about Navy and nation
and then about Nelson.
Nelson, the man,
is completely overshadowed.
The closest thing to
Nelson's funeral that most of us
are going to remember is
the funeral of Princess Diana.
And it had that same
kind of mass emotion,
people dropping to their knees
when they saw the cortege pass by.
Nelson's funeral is
a funeral fit for a king,
fit for more than a king.
And yet inside is this small,
frail, in some ways flawed man.
Who'd been born as the son of
a very minor Norfolk parson,
who people, when they met him,
often didn't find that
personally impressive.
It doesn't really make any sense
unless you understand
just how fascinating
and how wonderfully complex the man
is who is inside that coffin.
Entombed within
the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral,
the real Horatio Nelson
remains hidden from view.
Until now.
The big thing about Nelson is
he was a rule-breaker,
both in his naval career
and in his personal life.
This is the story of Nelson's great
victories and dark secrets.
Whether this letter was actually
written by Nelson, we don't know.
None of these detract, however,
from Nelson's probable sentiments
and support for
the institutions of enslavement.
The funeral was a kind of
celebration of one side of Nelson,
the Nelson who wound up
on top of the column,
but there's an awful lot that
was left down at ground level,
that the funeral didn't say.
In the two centuries
since his death,
Admiral Lord Nelson has been
idolised as the saviour of the seas.
Nelson has become
essentially a national figure.
He is, for all intents and purposes,
a pop star admiral.
In the Nelson legend, he's depicted
as a symbol of military genius,
of machismo and romance.
Why do we always meet
just to say goodbye?
They just lit each other up,
like touch papers, it exploded.
Even before the Victory
that killed him,
he was one of the most
famous men in Britain.
The establishment
wanted to make Nelson
this figure of England's power,
empire and glory.
But underlying his status is
new controversy over the Britain
he fought and died for.
It's very striking that
until now, he really has
been pretty untouched.
Nelson, of course, was long dead
and couldn't defend himself
as to whether he had or had not
intended to say those things.
Who was the self-made man
mythologised as
one of Britain's greatest heroes?
The real story is
much more revealing.
What you've got in the myth
is a form of truth,
but this truth has,
of course, been embellished.
Biographies as early as 1806
cast him in this golden light
as a man who never put a foot wrong
and was destined for greatness
almost from the moment of birth.
Anything that casts even the
slightest shadow on his reputation
is swiftly written out.
It wasn't only Nelson's biographers
who were keen to smooth over
less-than-appealing characteristics.
When it came to looks, he was very
aware of 18th-century sensibilities.
Nelson was the most unlikely
hero in appearance.
And he was very, very clever
in getting himself painted with what
we might see as the contemporary
version of an Instagram filter.
In the earliest known portrait
of Nelson, by Rigaud,
you've got him as a very young,
newly promoted captain.
He's rather a fresh-faced youth,
he's only in his early 20s,
standing proud as an officer,
but Nelson is not some
six-feet-two brute of an individual.
He was very thin and he had
this shock of bright red hair.
Some of it was going grey,
some of it was missing.
We would find his face terribly
good-looking because it's really
very chiselled, but for the time he
was not the kind of man you wanted.
He wasn't a romantic hero
in the slightest.
He didn't look an awful lot
like some of his portraits.
Horatio Nelson was born
in the autumn of 1758
in Burnham Thorpe, a small village
in the North Norfolk marshes,
a few miles inland from the coast.
The sixth of 11 children,
the son of Catherine Suckling
and country parson
Reverend Edmund Nelson,
his was a landless family,
and this put him at a disadvantage.
Nelson was not an aristocrat.
He's from the middle classes.
And that makes him
equally unsought after.
He's seen as this Norfolk man
with a thick Norfolk accent.
He can't dance.
He can't play music.
He was often seen,
really, as a bit of a joke.
He saw himself repeatedly
being excluded because
he wasn't from the right class.
Appearance and class weren't
the only factors that made Nelson
an unlikely hero-to-be.
He suffered a devastating loss
when he was just nine years old,
that threatened to derail him.
A modern psychologist would probably
say that Nelson's insecurity
started in childhood with
the very early death of his mother.
Even as a young boy, you can see
that Nelson craved affection.
He craved approval.
Throughout his life,
that was the case.
He wanted to be appreciated.
Life in Norfolk and his early years
was something he wanted to leave
behind him almost straightaway.
The turning point for a man
not obviously destined for success
came through the patronage of his
uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling.
On New Year's Day 1771,
the 12-year-old Nelson enrolled
for a naval career
which began aboard
his uncle's ship, HMS Raisonnable.
But it wasn't only nepotism
and Nelson's single-minded nature
that sparked an extraordinary rise
through the ranks.
Nelson has ability on his side.
He's a skilled officer
who's able to take advantage
of what's afforded him.
So it's this combination of factors
that gives Nelson's career
a sort of firework trajectory.
He wasn't born into the sort of
social class that bred admirals.
So he had to fight
for his position in life.
He was tenacious.
He had his eyes
on victory, literally.
If you want to be, as it were,
a man on the up, then a naval career
provides a useful route to that.
The prize money that was awarded
for the capture of enemy ships
could quickly lead to a fortune.
And of course,
promotion through naval rank
allowed additional
social status to be gained.
Everything about Nelson -
his personality, his strengths,
his character -
is ideal for the Navy.
He's also fortunate to be an officer
in a time of war when there's
a good deal of action going on
and the opportunity for promotion.
The simple fact is that officers
get killed or become injured
and therefore new positions open up.
Nelson's opportunity
for further advancement,
and notoriety,
came on 14th February 1797.
In the Atlantic,
off the coast of Cadiz,
the British fleet aimed to
prevent Spanish ships
from joining their French allies.
The British had an advantage -
the Spanish fleet
had been split in two.
Commodore Nelson was following the
orders of his boss, Admiral Jervis,
and the action that unfolded
would define Nelson's character.
A classic example of Nelson
leading from the front is the battle
of Cape St Vincent in 1797.
The British admiral takes his fleet
through this division
in the Spanish fleet,
an incredibly difficult thing to do.
And as soon as he's done so,
everything starts
to slightly unravel.
This is where Nelson steps up
because he realises that a manoeuvre
needs to happen to make sure that
the Spanish don't double back and
then turn the tables on the British.
He brings his ship
alongside a Spanish ship.
His ship's been quite damaged,
so he takes immediate action,
and what he does is
he boards the Spanish ship
and he leads part of his crew onto
the Spanish ship and secures it.
And then from that Spanish ship,
he goes onto another Spanish ship.
He manages to capture
two - two - Spanish ships.
The key thing is he leads
that boarding party in person.
It's the first time that
a flag officer has done that
for over 400 years.
It was not normal behaviour at all,
but there he is, this slight, this
frail man, madly waving his sword,
leading his men onto
the decks of a Spanish ship.
Nothing would stop him.
And it was a unique
occurrence in naval history.
Despite disobeying orders, Nelson's
decisive action and his extreme
bravery in securing a British
victory was rewarded back home.
At a prestigious ceremony,
King George III made Nelson
a Knight of the Bath,
the first of many accolades
that Nelson proudly displayed.
This honour coincided
with his promotion to Rear Admiral.
But a naval life was precarious
and three days in July 1797
could have sunk
Nelson's high-flying career.
The young commodore was on a mission
to bring some much-needed
revenue into England.
He's sent on a mission to Santa Cruz
de Tenerife in the Canary Islands
to capture a Spanish galleon
loaded with silver dollars.
So a very high-profile mission,
he's given the job
and it all goes badly wrong.
At the battle of Santa Cruz,
Nelson is leading from the front,
he is in a small boat assault.
He's just leaping onto the beach
to start another attack...
..when a musket ball
hits him in the elbow.
It shatters his elbow.
He is then taken back
to his flagship
and the sergeant operates
immediately, removing the limb.
The ship's surgeon
saws off Nelson's arm
and Nelson just has to bear it.
On a ship in the middle of battle,
the odds that any procedure
would save a life were slim.
The ligature that's used to
secure the wound actually
captures one of Nelson's nerves.
There's no anaesthetic in those
days. The best you're going to get
is maybe a bit of whiskey
or something to bite on.
You just have to deal with it.
There is a real danger of
infection, gangrene and death.
When Nelson loses his arm, it's
a major physical shock obviously
but also a huge emotional setback.
He's got to essentially
recalibrate his naval career.
Can he come back?
Nelson said after the battle
of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
that he was in the most horrible
hell that he had ever endured.
He is in essentially
agonising pain for weeks,
and has to take laudanum, a form
of opium, to help ease the pain.
These were extremely
dark days for Nelson.
He'd lost his right arm.
He lost vast numbers of men,
which he really felt.
And he'd lost the battle.
Nelson was suffering from
depression - deep, dark depression.
Post-traumatic stress,
we may well call it today.
And he knows that failed admirals
don't get another go.
He's had his shot and he's blown it.
At the age of 38, a battered Nelson
feared his career was over.
He'd already permanently lost
the sight in his right eye
in combat three years earlier.
So just how did
this broken body and mind
become the Navy's most revered
and successful admiral,
celebrated as
Britannia's God of War?
His body is really the greatest
showcase of his own sacrifice,
and that way in which Nelson manages
to turn his great weakness
into his great power, I think,
is the epitome of his character.
It might be surprising that
Nelson made it as far as he did,
but that would be to ignore entirely
the power of his personality.
His greatest victories
lie ahead him.
So despite the failure at Santa Cruz
and the loss of an arm,
his heyday is still ahead.
In the summer of 1797,
after his defeat by the Spanish,
a battle-weary and beleaguered
figure retreated to England.
Depressed and insecure,
Rear Admiral Nelson feared
his career was in ruins.
The extent of
Nelson's mental anguish is revealed
in the very first letter
he wrote with his left hand,
to his boss, Admiral Jervis.
Nelson wrote that he would be
a "burden to his friends"
and "useless to his country".
He said, "When I leave your command
"I become dead to the world,
"I go hence and I am no more seen".
But a clue to the strength of
Nelson's character and his ambition
lies in the way
he concluded this letter.
It's fascinating - at the bottom
he says, "Forgive my scrawl,
it is my first attempt."
But if you read the letter,
it's very clear that
it's actually not much of a scrawl.
It's seriously impressive.
It's quite self-deprecating,
I think, but at the same time,
he's bigging himself up.
He knows it's going to be read
by some very important people.
The words say, "I'm dead,
I won't be able to serve any more"
but he's also saying,
"Wait a minute, I'm still here.
"Don't you forget about me.
I've got more to do."
Nelson, I think, created
a new version of the hero.
It was the suffering hero.
That's why Nelson talks about
his suffering body.
He's saying, "Guys, I did this
for you. I sacrificed this for you."
Nelson had been nursed back
to health by his wife, Frances,
who he'd married ten years earlier.
Despite the defeat
at Santa Cruz de Tenerife,
he was now determined to return to
where he felt most at home...
..the sea.
Nelson had this implicit belief
in his abilities as a commander.
He believed he was the right person
for the right job at the right time.
As far as he was concerned,
he had a job and he needed to do it.
I'm the great, great, great, great
grandson of Horatio, Lord Nelson.
I suppose technically,
I'm probably 1/64 pure Nelson.
But I'd like to think I got
some of his behaviours, really.
Nelson's self-belief was
bolstered by the support of his men.
Through more than 25 years at sea,
he had earned a reputation
as a stand-out naval officer.
What we do know about Nelson
is that he treated
his sailors very well.
He was a good boss.
It was very important to him.
Nelson was really aware
of the humanity of his sailors.
There was a feeling, certainly,
that you had to treat your men
very badly for them to respect you.
And that wasn't the way
that Nelson saw it.
Many officers choose
to serve with Nelson.
They like him as
a fleet commander and a leader.
Nelson has almost a sort of
joshing tone with some of them.
When he sees, for example, Captain
Edward Berry come into the battle,
he announces,
"Ah, here's that damned fool Berry.
Now we'll have a battle,"
you know, so he's aware of the fact
that Berry is going to
take the fight to the enemy.
The most notable thing about combat
at the time is the uncertainty
and the complete chaos.
When two huge ships,
the most enormous things -
they've been compared
to medieval cathedrals -
these things came alongside
each other and fought,
no-one knew
what was going to happen.
Some might survive, some might die.
He was ridiculously brave.
When you know it hurts,
and going straight back there,
that's, that's just brave.
You have to demonstrate your ability
to go into the thick of the fight
if you were to command
the respect of your men.
Nelson was one of about 100,000
personnel serving king and country
in the Royal Navy,
the largest employer
in late 18th-century Britain.
Of course, he was operating
in a multicultural Royal Navy.
We knew that there are sailors
from many different countries
in the Royal Navy of the time,
and of many different races.
It would be very common to see on
any vessel people from South Asia,
African men from the Caribbean,
from Africa itself, North America,
people from the Philippines.
It was a very multiethnic crew.
Some of these crew members
serving with Nelson
were former enslaved
people from America.
An irony considering
what kind of Britain
Nelson was fighting to protect.
The Royal Navy is essentially
Britain's front line of defence.
It's also the force
that's protecting Britain's
trading interests around the globe.
Horatio Nelson enters a Navy,
one of whose primary roles
is safeguarding British trade
across the Atlantic.
This stupendously lucrative
trade in human lives
from West Africa to the Caribbean
and the products derived
from the plantation economies
of the British West Indies.
Sugar, indigo, tobacco.
It's also bringing in cotton cloth.
A whole host of things that
the emerging British industry
and the consumer society at
the time absolutely rely upon.
If Britain doesn't command the sea,
it will lose the ability to trade,
and Britain depends
on imported food,
even in the 1790s,
so it will starve.
It was a set of economic
which had to be maintained
at all costs.
Despite this, the slave
trade was now under threat.
As a senior naval commander,
Nelson was unlikely to
challenge the status quo,
or the trafficking human
lives which underpinned
Britain's colonial economy.
We know that plantation owners were
within Nelson's circle of friends.
Of course, also within Nelson's
cirlcle of friends are people
who are in favour of the
abolition of the trade as well.
So, Nelson's views on the matter
are by no means clear cut.
Keeping his own counsel,
Nelson's stated mission was
to defend Britain at all costs.
And with that, to secure
his reputation.
Later, he famously wrote,
"I'm envious only of glory,
"for if it be a sin to covet glory,
"I am the most offending
soul alive."
Nelson is not deluded about
his own level of ambition.
He said it, "I am more obsessed
with glory than anyone else."
What particularly matters
to Nelson is that
he wants to reach this
level of achievement,
if only he will be allowed to do so.
He wants everyone to
praise and appreciate him.
He is not going to be happy until
he gets the applause of the world.
In 1798, the opportunity
to prove himself
and receive the glory
he craved soon presented itself.
Nelson would face Britain's
most challenging enemy.
Napoleon Bonaparte, an opponent
he was determined to annihilate.
Overnight, he's transformed into the
country's biggest romantic hero,
and that's due to a battle, but
it's not the battle we all remember.
It's not Trafalgar.
It's the Nile.
Horatio Nelson was all too
aware that,
in a competitive world at sea,
the fortunes of a naval officer
could quickly change.
He had tasted success when he had
audaciously captured
two ships at once, in 1797, at
the Battle of Saint Vincent.
But he had also, just five
months later in the same year,
suffered a humiliating defeat
and a life-changing injury.
Nelson's commitment to his
pursuit of Glory was total.
The thing to realise about
Nelson is that doing it,
however remarkable that might
have been, was never enough.
He needed people to read about it.
Nelson, I think, was incredibly
aware of that very modern lesson -
it's not enough just to be a genius.
You've got to tell the
world that you're a genius.
Sometimes this irritated his
superiors who wanted, as it were,
the official line to come through,
but Nelson, up and coming,
a "pop star" Naval officer wants
to get his version out there.
In March 1797,
a full account of Nelson's courage
at the Battle of St Vincent
appeared in a British newspaper.
It read,
"My pendant was flying on the most
glorious Valentine's Day."
It continued, "I found
the cabin doors fastened
"and the Spanish officers
fired their pistols at us."
He was extremely concerned
that the glory and courage,
and bravery, really was told
as well as possible
to the British public.
And he did that by
writing it himself.
Nelson wrote,
"I was on the quarter deck
when the Spanish captain,
"with a bended knee,
presented me his sword."
He was perhaps the greatest
spin master we've ever seen.
The self-promoter.
He didn't need a PR company
or an advertising agency.
He was permanently
engaged with the public.
He'd have been
wonderful on Twitter.
He modestly titled his account A
Few Remarks Relative To Myself.
It's so full of ego and a
desire to talk about himself,
and it certainly is not
a few remarks.
He writes, and he doesn't
stop writing, about himself
and about what he has achieved.
To really capture public attention,
the great self-publicist
needed a nemesis.
And for Nelson,
his was Napoleon Bonaparte.
The French have a new
superstar of their own.
Nelson is obsessed with Napoleon
and with winning against him.
It doesn't go vice versa. Napoleon
is not obsessed with Nelson.
These two men stand for such
completely different things.
Nelson is about the preservation
and stability of the existing order
and Napoleon is about
the violent overthrow
and destruction of everything.
During the French Revolutionary
wars of the late 1790s,
Napoleon threatened to destroy
Britain's trade routes,
its wealth and its plans
to expand its empire.
The Royal Navy seems
perpetually to be able to frustrate,
the activities of the French Navy.
So, in that respect, Nelson is
an annoying bit of oak
that's jabbed into the Emperor's
and he can't quite get rid of it.
By the summer of 1798,
Nelson suspected that the French
were clearly planning to make
a significant move
in the Mediterranean.
Napoleon wanted to expand
his empire by invading Egypt,
establishing it as a French colony
and a base from which to
threaten British control of India.
They give Napoleon
an enormous fleet.
This is an entire city on the move.
And because of that, they're going
to be easy to catch and destroy,
IF they can find them.
So there's a key moment here
where Napoleon,
and his crazy schemes,
can actually be stopped.
The opportunity for
Nelson to really prove himself
as the master of his
craft had arrived.
He was selected, arguably
against more qualified men,
to hunt the French and thwart them.
All of his experience
so far was building to this battle.
The Nile is the moment
when Nelson demonstrates all aspects
of his genius at their height.
Just before the Battle of the Nile,
he says, "Before this time tomorrow,
I shall have gained a peerage
"or Westminster Abbey."
He knew very well that there was a
good chance he was going to die,
but equally he knew very well
there was a good chance
he was going to become one of the
most famous people in the country.
Nelson prepares for a battle in
a very particular and careful way.
He's briefed and coached
his captains to the point
where they know exactly
what they have to do.
Each commander has been empowered
to take the fight to the enemy.
Nelson calls the men he sails
with, in the Mediterranean in 1798,
a "band of brothers" -
it's a phrase he's actually taken
from Shakespeare.
They were the most potent
naval squadron
that I think the Royal Navy
had ever put together,
and they'd be put together and sent
to the Mediterranean with one job.
And that was to catch Napoleon.
The French Navy had landed
an army in Egypt to secure
new territory but Napoleon hadn't
reckoned on Nelson discovering
the French fleet in Aboukir Bay,
near the mouth of the
Nile at anchor.
Usually being anchored like that
is a very strong position,
but the French
haven't done it right.
They've not attached their ships
to each other with chains -
which is normally done.
They're swinging on a single anchor,
and that means, with the ships
in line here, there is enough water
on the landward side,
for a ships to go.
And the British realise that,
particularly captain Foley of the
He realises he can take
his ship between the land
and the French battle fleet,
and if he could take one ship
then others could follow him.
Nelson takes the key decision,
which is to start the attack on the
outboard side of the French ships,
to double up on them. If you can
get a ship on both sides of an
enemy vessel, you reduce the combat
time, which is really important.
You've got to get this battle done.
So, before they know it,
the French are being attacked
on both sides...
..and there is an
incredibly intense battle
and it last for hours,
and it's night-time.
Within each battle,
there is often a moment that
actually defines the engagement
and, at the battle of the Nile,
that movement is the destruction
of the French flagship, the
It is hit and the powder magazine
and essentially the entire
ship blows up.
The battle stops.
Everyone literally looks round to
see what has become of the l'Orient.
The moments of l'Orient's explosion
in one of the most
evocative paintings
from this entire age of sail - a
huge ball of burning orange fire
with bits of rigging flying off,
up into the sky at night.
And that's a moment when I think
Napoleon's plans for invading Egypt
sink to the bottom
of the Mediterranean.
Naval battles -
the enemy usually sails away
and comes back another day.
Nelson made sure that didn't happen.
In less than 24 hours,
Nelson's squadron destroyed all
but two
of the 13 French battleships...
..without losing a single ship.
The action thwarted French
ambitions to expand in the area.
At least 2,000 Frenchmen
lost their lives that night,
nearly ten times
more than the British.
Of the hundreds
wounded on both sides,
Nelson was again seriously injured.
Nelson is hit on the forehead
by a piece of shrapnel,
which opens up a great flap
of skin from his forehead,
which falls over his good eye,
so he can't see.
The impact certainly concussed him,
probably a hairline fracture
of the skull.
You realise that his body
is really suffering
from years and years
of relentless warfare.
The Nile is Nelson's
signature battle.
It's the moment when he goes
from being an Admiral
to being a superstar.
Nelson's new status was captured
by the master caricaturist
of the day, James Gillray.
Gillray gives us a
fabulous image of Nelson,
pulling a bunch of crocodiles
from the Nile
and cudgelling them with
a piece of British oak.
He achieves the level of celebrity,
that you only find in wartime,
when people are desperate
for a saviour,
somebody to get them
out of this mess.
For saving Egypt from the French,
Nelson was showered with
gifts by the Ottoman sultan.
And the King of Naples
made him the Duke of Bronte.
From then forward, he proudly
signed himself Nelson and Bronte.
This new signature encapsulates
his personality perfectly
because he's been given a title,
and he wants people
to know about it.
And he's re-branded himself
to Nelson and Bronte.
And he wasn't the only one
obsessed with his new image.
Nelson-mania swiftly took hold.
Suddenly, Britain goes Nelson crazy.
you can be all a-la-Nelson.
It means that you've
got Nelson headband.
It means you've got
an anchor around your neck.
It means you've got giant Ns
embroidered on your skirts.
You're one walking
Nelson advertisement.
Every house, it's been estimated,
has some kind of version of Nelson -
whether it's something
torn out of a paper
or whether it's a full-blown
portrait or pewter service,
or dinner service.
You know, you could do your
whole house in the Nelson look.
This man, who was
ignored by society as, yes,
he might be good at Naval stuff,
but he wasn't handsome,
he wasn't the right class.
Overnight, he's suddenly this
romantic hero,
this obsession - all because
of the Battle of the Nile.
In the immediate aftermath
of the battle,
Nelson himself has been wounded.
And his fleet is in a rather
poor state.
So they put into Naples.
And it was here, secure
in his superstar status,
that Nelson, already
married to Frances,
embarked on a new and scandalous
adventure in his personal life.
He would meet a woman who absolutely
shared all his dreams.
She tells him she's melting for him,
she's swelling for him,
and then Emma finishes this
bombshell letter to Nelson by
"For God's sake,
come to Naples soon.
"My husband and I are
impatient to embrace you."
He arrives in Naples
and he becomes the absolute
centre of attention.
And that's when he falls in love.
In the autumn of 1798,
Rear Admiral Nelson was
riding high on success.
He had achieved a significant
victory over Napoleon.
As he arrived into Naples to
repair his ships,
the woman who led the welcoming
party wasn't his wife -
but a superstar of the day.
Nelson arrives, the hero
of the Nile,
terribly injured in battle.
He was a battered sailor.
A hero, but a battered
sailor nonetheless.
And he's expecting to
see the King, the queen.
He's expected to be welcomed,
and this glamorous woman,
she is running towards him,
and she stops dead in front of him.
She must have been
such a vision to him.
She swoops in and makes
such a fuss of him.
She has been an actress,
she has been a muse.
but this is the biggest
role she's ever played
in front of this entire
audience of Naples,
she really throws herself
into Nelson's arms.
Emma Hamilton was already
well known across Europe,
and came to embody the
archetypal mistress and siren.
Her name synonymous with the high
profile establishment affair.
Emma Hamilton was the most
fabulous, beautiful, resourceful,
intelligent woman of her day
and I truly believe that,
if she existed now,
she would be as much of a
megastar as she was back then.
Emma Hamilton's story is one of
almost unbelievable rags to riches.
She was born in extreme
poverty in a mining village
in the North of England.
But she had this incredible,
meteoric rise through
London society.
Emma, against the odds,
secured the position of mistress
to a prominent London aristocrat.
And she became famous as the muse
to society artist George Romney,
who created more than 60
paintings inspired by her.
And you have these incredible
paintings between Romney and Emma,
the synergy of muse
and painter.
He paints her as a spinstress.
He paints her as Baccante, as Cerce.
These incredible luminous
paintings that really blow
the 18th-century mind.
She wore her hair down,
which was...
..not the done thing back then,
that was seen as very wild.
And also, she sort of looks
at the viewer she's painted
to actually gaze into your eyes
quite coquettishly.
But Emma's notoriety as a model
worked against her marriage
..and she was dismissed by her lover
who packed her off to Naples.
Arriving on her 21st
birthday in April 1786.
She transformed herself again,
as a performer of The Attitudes,
unique choreographed poses bringing
classical characters to life.
She would act out Greek myths
and people will come from miles
around to see Emma's performances.
They were utterly mesmerising.
They were silent and they were very
powerful and passionate pieces.
And actually those attitudes
were a huge part of what elevated
her status as an artist.
Emma, now a European superstar, was,
like the rest of Naples society,
terrified of a French invasion.
On hearing of Nelson's victory,
she appealed directly to him.
She writes him this bombshell
of a letter.
She tells him she's melting for him.
She's swelling for him.
She's overcome with agitations
and then Emma finishes by saying,
"For God's sake,
come to Naples soon.
"My husband and I are
impatient to embrace you."
Emma had married the
British ambassador to Naples,
Sir William Hamilton, in 1791.
And through his connections
became a confidante to the
Neopolitan royal family.
It was Lady Hamilton,
high society darling,
who soothed a battle-scarred Nelson.
She nurses him herself
and they come out of it,
head over heels in
love with one another.
They just lit each other up,
like touch papers.
You know, it exploded.
Here are two people who've
risen up the social ranks
and they realise, I think, that they
can basically help each other.
Really, they were
two of the first to surf
the new wave of celebrity.
And the fact that they did
it together, hand-in-hand,
made them the first of a
new kind of power couple.
This was no conventional
love affair.
Not only was Emma married
but the reaction of her husband,
who was over 30 years her senior,
was just as unconventional.
The affair is carried out in
public in front of Sir William.
Nelson, Emma and Sir William become
the most famous
threesome in history.
They call themselves "trio juncta in
uno," three joined in one.
Everyone in that almost
valued the others partly
for what they could get out of it.
Sir William knew that he was
losing political power.
And if he could say to both
Britain and Naples
that he controlled Nelson,
this loose cannon,
he would gain himself huge
amounts of power and respect.
But this is far from what happened.
And Sir William bore the brunt
of the vilification by satirists
like Gillray who painted him
as a sleeping cuckold.
Emma is in her negligee
and looking out with her arm
stretched out to sea.
This cartoon, bulky, emotional woman
wanting Nelson whilst in bed with
her husband.
News of the affair is not
received well in London.
What the Admiralty really
need is for him
to go back on a ship, back out to
and to confront the big problem,
which is Napoleon.
Nelson's superiors ordered him
and Sir William home,
but, true to his rebellious nature,
Nelson chose the scenic route
and took a grand tour with
the Hamiltons.
He knew that he would soon have to
choose between the enterprising,
glamorous Emma
or the unambitious, loyal wife
and their home in Norfolk.
Nelson had been married for 11 years
to Frances - or Fanny - Nisbet,
the daughter of a plantation owner,
whom he'd met in the West Indies.
Fanny Nisbet was herself already
a widow,
although a young one, and with a
It seemed an eminently suitable
Norfolk was never really
going to suit Nelson.
It didn't much suit Fanny either,
used to the West Indies.
And I think Nelson was soon
disappointed in his wife.
He wanted a cheerleader,
if you like,
whereas Fanny was all about her
nerves, her worry.
Wouldn't he just stay quietly at
home in a little cottage with her?
Frances Nelson is expecting to meet
Nelson and all go back to normal.
She thinks, you know,
"You can't have your mistress on
show in London society."
When Nelson and Emma return, you've
got a further layer of scandal.
This hasn't simply been
a holiday romance.
Emma is many months pregnant with
Nelson's daughter,
so this is something much more
And, of course, Nelson had
no children with Frances,
and now he's seeing the
potential for an heir with Emma.
Nelson behaved absolutely
despicably towards his wife.
By then, he was so comfortable in
his position as this beloved hero
that he acted with impunity.
It's a double scandal for Frances,
and I think reveals this cool, cold,
potentially quite heartless streak
in Nelson.
He's found Emma and that's who he's
sticking with.
Then, in October, 1801, Nelson
unofficially set up home with
the Hamiltons in the countryside
to the southwest of London,
a house affectionately
known as Paradise Merton.
This is where they invite
all their friends to come -
the top aristocrats,
politicians come.
They accept Nelson's explicit
relationship with his mistress
because he is so powerful.
And there is one episode at a
dinner party where Nelson takes out
one of his swords and Emma makes
this massive, overblown,
theatrical set-up.
She gets out the sword and she
kisses it in front of everyone.
It's all so big and romantic.
Fanny would never have done that
and Nelson just adores it.
Even though social mores dictated
that they could not be husband
and wife, Nelson had now become
a father -
a long-held ambition - to a girl,
and, to avoid further scandal,
the couple had a plan.
They called her Horatia,
which always makes me giggle
because they couldn't tell
people that it was their daughter,
because it was out of wedlock,
so they lied and said that she was
a friend's daughter
that they were fostering.
The fiction was absolute,
even between Nelson and Emma,
that this was a godchild.
And she looks just like him.
His genes are strong.
As she grows up, she's like the tiny
version of Nelson.
Nelson has everything he wants.
He has his love, he has a home,
he has Horatia.
For the first time in his life,
Nelson is accepted and is loved by
polite society,
and he is loving it.
But Britain was still playing
a dangerous game abroad
and Nelson's own peace would soon be
broken by the single most
important battle of his life.
They finally find out where the
French fleet is.
Then it's just a matter of time
before someone goes and knocks on
the door of the man that everyone
And Nelson is summoned to Portsmouth
as quickly as he possibly can.
In the summer of 1803,
Admiral Nelson received news of
the posting he had always wanted -
of the Mediterranean Fleet.
He had the weight of the nation
on his shoulders,
adored as the Hero of the Nile,
the only man who could defeat
Now aged 45, this was his
ultimate chance for glory.
The Battle of Trafalgar is
Nelson's one last job.
It's his one last heist,
you might say,
a great, out-there naval commander,
and he knows this.
The personal stakes for Nelson
have being raised.
He's now in a loving relationship
with Emma Hamilton.
He's got a daughter, but now his
country calls yet again,
and he is going to be sent off to
try and defeat another French fleet.
In one respect, it's simply another
day in the office,
but it's another day in the office
with a very different
domestic situation.
This was going to
be his last battle.
He was knocking on a bit by now.
And he absolutely knew he would win.
Nelson fully expects to win every
but he wants to win it in the
best possible manner to achieve
the effect he needs at the
strategic and political level.
Nelson spent two years at sea
planning for his encounter
with Napoleon - far longer than he
had anticipated.
In the spring of 1805,
he searched for the
Napoleonic fleet in the Caribbean.
A letter from June that year
revealed his fears that the enemy
would attack Britain's most
valuable colony, Jamaica,
and with it the colonial system.
He wrote it to an acquaintance
on the islands of Jamaica,
a Mr Simon Taylor, who was an
extremely wealthy plantation owner
who had more than 2,000 enslaved
Africans toiling his fields.
The letter said,
"I have ever been and shall die a
firm friend
"to our colonial system..."
..and referred to the abolition of
slavery as
"the damnable doctrine of
"and his hypocritical allies."
The letter reveals evidence
of Nelson as a man of his time,
the darker, more unpalatable side
to a hero.
We know that one of Nelson's first
voyages was to the Caribbean.
We know that he married
Frances Nisbet,
who is the daughter of a plantation
owner on Nevis.
He was, of course, part of the Navy,
part of whose job was to protect
England's commercial interests,
including, hideously, this one.
I don't think it would have crossed
his mind, the morality of it.
I think it would have been baffling
to him,
the fact that anyone wanted to
cease this trade.
The imagined French attack
on the Caribbean colony
failed to materialise...
..and that summer, Nelson requested
a short period of home leave.
He wanted to make his relationship
with Emma Hamilton
as official as he could.
Emma and Nelson have a
betrothal ceremony with rings.
Of course, they can't marry -
Nelson is still married to Frances -
but they do have this
betrothal ceremony,
which really is quite daring.
They see it as greater than anyone
else's love,
and that wonderful belief they have
in their own huge romance story.
And he expects he and Emma
can live happily ever after.
Nelson spent just three weeks at
before he was summoned to leave.
He said farewell to Emma
and Merton Place,
on the evening of
Friday the 13th of September, 1805.
When Nelson travels down to
he does so as quickly as he can.
And he actually takes a back route
to the Victory
because he wants to avoid the
He's not interested in the fame
right now.
He's got a job to do.
Then they catch up with him
and they end up waving him off
to go and defeat the French.
The public know that their security,
their safety
and their wealth relies on the
British controlling the sea,
so he's got all of their hopes
and dreams with him as he sails.
Nelson's arrival is
regarded with cheer.
Here you've got the most successful
admiral of the day,
someone who can be trusted to
get the job done
and someone who is popular
with his officers and men.
Nelson wrote to Emma describing
his arrival on board the Victory.
He described the reception
of his ideas that he called
the Nelson Touch.
He said it was like an electric
shock, that some shed tears.
And then he says,
"But all approved."
It's a wonderful letter cos I get a
real sense that some people might
have rolled their eyes at Nelson,
again going on about how much he was
HMS Victory, the Royal Navy's
most famous warship,
had cost the equivalent of over
1.1 billion
when she was completed in 1765.
The flagship had proved her
success in battle and, in 1803,
Victory was given a complete refit
and Nelson made her his own.
A ship like HMS Victory was
the largest,
the most complex man-made, moving
object that had ever been built.
Victory is the stately home that
Nelson never had.
It's the place where he lived
and worked for two and a half years.
They might have as many as
800 people on board masts,
200 feet high,
over 100 guns on three decks.
The guns varied in size.
The 36-pounders were
the weight of a small car
and that's how heavy and difficult
they were to actually manoeuvre,
so they had a team of men around
them who would operate that gun,
who would load it, who would aim it
and who would fire it.
HMS Victory was built to hold
the centre of a line of battle.
They were the absolute
strength in a chain of ships,
which might stretch up to 30 miles
in length.
By September, 1805, the joint
French and Spanish fleet was posing
a threat to British dominance
of the Mediterranean
and had found safe haven at Cadiz
on Spain's Atlantic coast.
Britain feared the enemy fleet could
support Napoleon's planned moves
on Italy and threaten British trade
But Nelson was ahead of the game,
and when the combined
force of 33 French
and Spanish warships set sail,
Nelson had anticipated their move.
His fleet comprised of just
27 ships,
but the admiral's meticulous plan
was already in place.
Captain Cuthbert Collingwood, who is
essentially second in command,
and then also
Thomas Masterman Hardy,
who is Nelson's flag captain on the
And Nelson uses the campaign
leading up to Trafalgar to
make his men into an effective
and trusted fighting force.
And it was Nelson's own decision
to appeal to the entire British
fleet with the flag signal
"England expects that every
man will do his duty"
that has come to epitomise his
extraordinary impact
as a naval commander.
That's the first time an admiral had
spoken to an entire fleet
going into battle possibly
since the ancient world.
It's an astonishing piece of Nelson.
But what's interesting is
the response to it.
We know there was a huge cheer.
It wasn't England they were
cheering - it was Nelson.
I rather suspect he could have said
and, actually, they just loved
the fact that Nelson was talking
directly to the sailors.
They recognise, in a sort of
indulgent fashion,
that that's what Nelson did.
They let him do these things that
other people might see as
against the rules of the Navy
because they find him, I think,
a man worthy of loyalty.
There's also a bit of a threat in
He uses the time to remind the
sailors of their duty.
There are examples of British
not doing what was expected of them.
He didn't just want to win -
he wanted to crush the enemy.
As the sun came up on the morning of
the 21st of October,
20 miles off the Spanish coast,
the two fleets were in visual
..and Nelson unleashed his plan.
The first thing is to divide up
the enemy fleet, divide them into
smaller portions, which his fleet
could then fall on and dominate.
And the object of that
attack was to locate
and destroy the commander-in-chief's
flagship and the ability
of the French commander in chief
to signal and control his fleet.
He does this by dividing his fleet
into two sections
and then attacking the French and
the Spanish fleet at right angles.
The idea is that you
break into the enemy line
and, in a way, you sort of cut off
the heads of the enemy ships
because they can't get
back into the battle.
Very quickly, the battle becomes
a rather closed affair
with ship-on-ship action,
and it's only occasionally
that the big picture emerges.
So you're relying on the initiative
of those individual ship captains
to see what's going on
and react accordingly.
One of the key moments in the battle
is the approach,
where you have the two British
squadrons sailing at right angles
towards the allied French and
It's an incredibly dangerous
moment because the British,
all of their guns are on the sides
of the ships on the broad side
so although the French and the
Spanish are firing at them,
they can do very little
indeed to fire back.
And, in fact, they're under specific
instructions not to.
They lie down next to their guns
because what Nelson wants
to happen is to make that first
broadside count.
The closer you are,
the more reliable it's going to be
so the British sailors are lying
down and they're waiting.
It's a very, very slow walk
and yet this inevitable progress
is being made across a deep swell
towards the French and the Spanish.
The gunfire starts coming in
and people are dying,
people are being injured before the
British even start to fire back.
When the British finally open fire,
they unloaded a hail of cannonballs
straight through the French and
Spanish ships.
The ball would land in the hull of a
ship, but the inside of the hull,
where all of the sailors were, would
shatter in a cloud of splinters.
The battle essentially goes to plan
and they split the combined
French and Spanish fleet,
so they actually are then able
to maximise their firepower
on a smaller number of enemy
ships as other sail off.
At this early stage in the battle,
it could still really go any way.
The entire top section
of the French fleet,
it's going to turn around
and that could come back
and join the battle and
completely tip the scales.
At the height of the battle,
Victory is in some trouble.
She is right alongside the
French warship Redoutable.
In fact, so close that their masts
have become entwined
and they're exchanging broadsides
from a very close distance.
British marines will be firing up
into the rigging of the French ship,
trying to kill the snipers.
Many people on the ship, they would
have a very, very restricted view
of the battle.
All they would see, really,
was their immediate surroundings.
Somebody might be there, sponging
out the powder,
or somebody might spend
their time just pulling on a rope.
That was their Battle of Trafalgar.
But you're doing that in
scary conditions.
Deafening, smoky,
slippy underfoot with blood,
screams of people...
Horrific experience.
Nelson is seeing the battle go well
so at about quarter past one in the
Nelson is probably thinking,
"This is OK. I think we can see this
And it's this moment where a sniper,
a soldier standing in the rigging
of the Redoutable, takes a shot.
GUNSHOAnd a musket ball strikes his left
..and that, essentially, is the
beginning of the end for Nelson.
Nelson, who had until now survived
extreme combat at sea,
was mortally wounded at a crucial
stage in battle,
when victory was far from
The great commander was felled.
His greatest strength,
his desire to be there with his men,
it became his greatest weakness.
He wasn't immortal, yet, to many at
the time,
they may well have thought he was
despite falling down, he always came
back up
until that final time.
In the early afternoon of the
21st of October, 1805,
on the upper deck of the Victory
during the height of
the Battle of Trafalgar,
Admiral Lord Nelson received
the fatal wound
that would secure his status as a
legendary hero.
His is one of the most famous deaths
in history, retold and analysed.
They've done for me at last.
You're not badly hurt are you, Sir?
My backbone. Shot.
Nelson's been injured enough in his
lifetime to know that this one is...
There's no coming back from it.
Nelson's final injury was sustained
through a musket ball,
.69 inches, about the size of a
large marble.
Doesn't sound very big, but it would
have been the velocity
and its trajectory that would have
caused the damage.
Going in at the left shoulder,
coming across,
piercing his pulmonary artery -
an extremely important vessel -
coming to rest just below the right
Nelson is immediately paralysed
and falls to the deck...
..and exclaims to Hardy that
the French have finally got him.
He knows at that very moment that
he is going to die.
He insists that his face is covered
by a handkerchief
so people can't see who it is being
carried down below.
He's so acutely aware of the power
of his role as
a symbol in the fleet.
So, one of his prime concerns
is to keep his injured
state from all of his sailors.
He is taken to the orlop
deck which is below the water
line of Victory where he's seen
by the surgeon.
He's down there amongst all of
the injured.
It would have been dark. There would
have been screaming.
And the surgeon essentially says,
"Sorry, my Lord.
"There is nothing I can do for you."
It's surprising that he lived
anywhere near as long as he did.
There was no treatment available,
that we would find it hard to
save his life today.
Nelson was drowning in blood,
lungs were filling up with blood.
And there is nothing more
distressing for a patient
than not being able to breathe.
He would have been gasping
for breath.
And they were standing there
with him, comforting him.
And it must've been an extremely
distressing sight for them.
William Beatty, the ship's surgeon,
documented these final hours.
Captain Thomas Hardy, one of
the original band of brothers,
kept Nelson informed of the number
of enemy ships that had fallen.
He continued to instruct from his
death bed...
..and knowing what I know about
patients who have fatal
respiratory issues I cannot imagine
what that must've looked like.
But what he does is remarkable.
He hangs on in there.
He's determined to know
what the score is.
Occasionally, Hardy is able to come
down and essentially
give him an update on the score
and it gets to about 14 nil.
Which was good, but not good enough.
The answer slightly displeases him
because he hopes for at least 20.
So, even in his dying moments,
he was trying to
inspire others to achieve more than
they had already achieved.
What I think is extremely
comforting for him,
and for those around him, that they
were able to break the news to him
that the battle had been won
just before he died.
Those closest to Nelson waited for
his final words.
He's doing what all great
heroes have to do.
He has to say something appropriate
and fitting on the occasion.
By this stage, Nelson is passing in
and out of consciousness,
but of course is able to exclaim,
"Thank God, I have done my duty."
And Nelson had clearly thought this
one through because it's on a loop.
He just keeps on issuing,
"Thank God, I've done my duty."
Everybody in the cockpit heard him
say this more than once.
Those around him, and many since,
have hung on those last words
and their meaning.
Perhaps he's talking about
he's done his duty in that he has
defeated the French, or that he's
done his duty in sacrificing
his life to defeat the French.
Perhaps the latter is the case,
so casual, I think is he
with his life.
I wondered whether he felt that he
was not allowed any other life,
that this is why
he was on this planet.
You can see how many times he
was injured.
How many times he led from
the front.
I think he knew it was coming.
Um, I don't think he expected to
reach old bones at all.
Nelson's thoughts turned to
the personal, and it was a final
kiss that has become a part of
the legendary death scene.
Kiss me, Hardy.
He asked Captain Hardy to kiss him,
which Hardy did tenderly on forehead
and cheek.
This was a sort of cry for
a sort of emotional response.
Hardy was a friend, and the dying
Nelson was simply seeking
some comfort.
We were taught at school that as
he died, he said, "Kiss me, Hardy."
And then afterwards they said,
"Could it have been
'Kismet, Hardy?'"
Kismet comes from the word "qismat"
which means destiny.
So, they said, "Oh, as he was dying
he said,
"'it was in our destiny, Hardy.'"
He'd been in the most intense
place for a very long time.
Hardy was the closest thing
he had to a friend on the ship.
And that little bit of human
engagement at the end would
have been enormously rewarding.
Later, I think it may potentially
have worried the ever-prudish
Victorians that the fallen hero
should not be seen kissing a man.
He's clutching Hardy's hand,
he's talking, he's dying.
And what he's talking about, as
was recorded by William Beatty,
was, "What will become of my dear
Lady Hamilton?
"Remember me to Horatia."
There's so much evidence to show
that Emma was on his mind
the entire time.
He wrote her letters, he had her
portrait up on his cabin wall.
It feels like Emma was his every
waking thought.
And it's very possible
that as he was dying, it wasn't
"Kiss me, Hardy" or "Kismet, Hardy."
Maybe it was "Kiss Emma, Hardy."
And that seems so much more likely.
There are wonderful images of this
last moment in Nelson's life.
And I think it was such a profound
moment for those who actually
witnessed it.
It fell to Nelson's
second in command
Captain Collingwood to write
the dispatch that announced Nelson's
passing to the world, entitled
"The ever-to-be-lamented death of
Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson".
It read, "Nelson fell in the hour of
victory. I have not only to
"lament in common with the British
Navy, and the British Nation,
"in the fall of the Commander
in Chief, the loss of a hero,
"whose name will be immortal,
"and his memory ever dear to
his country."
The fleet was mortified.
They were heartbroken about it.
There were tears shed. I think, to
a certain extent, there might have
been an element of fear.
"What are we going to do
without him?
"This is our talisman.
"This is the man that's delivered us
our victories.
"Who's going to pick up the reins?"
I think that's when the story
of Trafalgar really becomes
as much about the death of Nelson
as it does about
the victory over the French
and the Spanish.
But even Nelson, who had always
dreamt of glory,
couldn't imagine the extent
to which he would be made
immortal by his demise at the Battle
of Trafalgar.
His death was far from the end of
the story.
Nelson is presented as a symbol
of duty and also as a symbol
of commitment. He becomes almost
like a god of sea power.
A depiction of Nelson shows him
in apotheosis,
essentially ascending to Heaven.
This is the Navy giving up
the fallen hero,
and he's now become a figure
of national status.
The grief that met Nelson's death
was really overwhelming.
Nelson is not buried
like a dead man.
He's buried like a Roman God.
When news of Nelson's death
reached Britain,
the whole nation was plunged
into mourning.
The British government,
in consultation with King George
III, carefully considered
the message that Nelson's funeral
would convey to the world.
Two months after Nelson had been
killed in action,
his body was finally received
in Greenwich
on Christmas Eve, 1805.
Victory at Trafalgar has got
to be celebrated
to boost national morale.
And Nelson can be
seen as a sort of unifying
figure around which the nation
can cluster.
Nelson's funeral is designed to make
everyone realise how
important sea power is to the future
prosperity of the country.
In these days of Empire
and Britain's national identity as
ruler of the seas,
only a state funeral, up until now
reserved for royalty, would do.
At the start of this five day event,
Nelson's body lay in state
within the Painted Hall
at the Royal Naval College
in Greenwich.
The gates open and some 10,000
people surge forward to catch
a glimpse of the coffin
of the fallen hero.
And then on the 8th of January,
the first stage of the funeral takes
place when Nelson's coffin is taken
in a funeral barge, draped with
black cloth, upstream to Whitehall.
If you're alongside the river, you
can see, you can go and join in,
if you have your own boat.
You can be a waterman
or a nobleman.
Every aspect of proceedings was
designed to impress.
On the 9th of January, Nelson made
his final journey by land towards
St Paul's Cathedral in
a funeral hearse,
a wheeled model of his flagship,
The Victory.
The figurehead is of fame,
which is what he's achieved,
and that would have pleased
him enormously.
Everybody fell silent,
hats were removed,
and not a word could be heard.
And then at the edge
of the City of London,
the Lord Mayor came down,
sword in hand,
took command of the parade and led
them up to the steps of St Paul's.
So, the City of London finally took
control of Nelson,
because Nelson was the man
they worshipped.
He made it safe to do
business round the world.
Nelson was buried in the crypt
at the very centre
of the cathedral, symbolising
the commercial and spiritual heart
of the empire he had secured.
He represented the trading interests
of a state fighting for dominance.
And there he will form
the foundation stone
of a national pantheon
of heroic dead.
Crucial to Nelson's elevation
as a talisman for England
was to ensure all blemishes were
airbrushed from history,
and that included his
mistress, Lady Hamilton,
who Nelson regarded
as his true wife.
Once Nelson died,
everyone swooped in to eradicate
Emma's importance in his life.
The woman he loved is not
invited to the funeral.
It's really made very clear that
now Nelson has died,
he is no longer hers.
After Nelson died,
he was turned into a God,
and Emma was turned into a scandal.
Nelson's final wish, written
in his will on the day
he died, was that the State made
provision for Emma and his daughter.
He wrote that that it was the one
favour he asked
of his king and country as he went
to fight their battles.
It was a plea that would be ignored.
The last thing the State is ever
going to do
is look after someone's mistress.
There was nothing for Emma -
no money for her, no money
for her child.
They're expected to stay
out of society and go away.
Emma was permitted to spiral into
a vortex of debt, alcoholism.
She just gradually felt betrayed.
And then she died
in poverty in Calais.
Horatia didn't acknowledge Emma.
She had sort of disowned
the fact that she was her mother.
And if Nelson had known
that it was going to turn out
like that before Trafalgar,
I wonder how he would have performed
at his duty beforehand,
going into battle.
It's a massive disservice to
Emma Hamilton to talk about Nelson
without acknowledging the huge
impact that she had on his life
and how massively let down
she was by the authorities,
the Government, the country
that hails him a hero.
The poor treatment of Emma was
partly a sign of the position
of women in society but also
revealed how far the establishment
would go to preserve Nelson's legacy
in the aftermath of Trafalgar.
His image was successfully
high-jacked by the State.
The minute he died, the power
he had over his image was gone.
And he was being used and exploited
as propaganda by the powers that be
to create loyalty to the war,
loyalty to the nation.
The establishment wanted
to make Nelson
this figure of England's power,
empire and glory.
And that's all we have been
taught to know about him.
This sanitised account of who
Nelson was
has become embedded in British
national identity and history.
In Trafalgar Square, a physical
embodiment of this
was completed in 1843.
But questions remain about what
kind of Britain
Nelson was fighting for...
..and in particular the support for
the slave trade -
questions which today loom
heavily over his legacy.
We can understand quite easily that
Nelson would have been sympathetic
to the world of the planters
and plantation owners
in the British West Indies.
His support of the slave trade
is something which is debatable.
We know he would have
had sympathies,
he would have been
sympathetic towards it,
however, we have very fragmentary
evidence which points that way.
In particular, interpretations
of a letter
to the wealthy plantation owner
Simon Taylor
have highlighted the issue of
his support for the slave trade.
My interpretation of this letter,
where he makes out he's
opposed to Wilberforce
and he's supports
the old colonial system,
is he's looking for financial
support from Simon Taylor,
who was one of the wealthiest men.
Nelson is asking an acquaintance for
a favour,
knowing that acquaintance fully
supports the system of slavery
in Jamaica. This may explain why
Nelson felt
he needed to include an allusion
to his support for it -
essentially a buttering up
of his correspondent.
The private letter, written
aboard the Victory in June, 1805,
was first made public in 1807,
more than a year after
Nelson's death,
printed in
Cobbett's Political Register.
William Cobbett was a famous...if
not notorious anti-abolitionist
and Negrophobe.
And it's interesting that was
where it first appeared,
and that it was used as an example
of showing how Britain's hero,
Britain's newly anointed saviour,
is pushing his weight behind
the pro-slavery lobby.
To have Nelson's name attached
to a published letter
opposing the passing of
the Slave Trade Bill
was of course a piece of
political dynamite.
Nelson's original letter to
Mr Taylor has been lost,
so we've no evidence in his
own hand of what was written.
And a new second letter,
thought to be an earlier version
of the 1807 political text,
has now been discovered.
It seems that for
Cobbett's magazine,
Nelson's text was altered
to make it more headline grabbing
than it might've been.
For example, in the original,
Nelson appears to have written
that he "cares for Jamaica".
In Cobbett's magazine, "cares"
becomes "fears for Jamaica",
as if adding a sort of sense of doom
that the abolition of
the slave trade
would somehow ruin
the economy of Jamaica.
Without seeing manuscript,
it's very, very difficult to know
who wrote the letter.
Whether that means it's something
that Nelson wrote
or something that somebody wished
he'd written
or perhaps modified something
he'd written, who knows?
Although doubt must be cast over
the provenance of this letter,
the sentiments expressed in it
would align
with what's generally known about
Nelson's sentiments
towards enslavement and abolition.
With modern eyes, we're doing
history a disservice
if we don't talk about that
side of him.
To Nelson, I think
it's about duty, actually.
And I feel that had
he been around later,
when the Royal Navy
was extremely active
in the suppression of
the slave trade,
that Nelson would have been at
the forefront of that as well.
In the two centuries
since his death,
Horatio Nelson has continued to
be immortalised.
England confides that every man
will do his duty.
Nelson, the self-made hero
and great self-publicist,
might not always have approved
of the way
his legend has unravelled,
but he would certainly have
revelled in the attention.
I think Nelson has endured
because he just represents what
the Navy look for
in a great commander.
I've been trying to reflect
on others
that might be Nelson today,
and I can't find them. I can't think
of anyone.
He was generous.
He was impulsive.
He was full of love for others,
but also demanding
to be loved himself.
It is that mixture in Nelson,
of confidence and doubt,
the quite frail, physically,
figure, and the courage,
still makes Nelson such a
staggeringly interesting figure.
I think the importance is
actually to stop seeing
Nelson as a hero
on top of a column...
..but to understand that Nelson was
a man of his time,
and who achieved remarkable things,
but someone who was as flawed
and vulnerable as we all are.