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Published on May 10, 2017
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Nelson’s Trafalgar examines the man behind the legend, his affair with Lady Hamilton – one of the great romances of history, and the dark side of a hero whose exploits were described by his contemporaries as both ‘glorious’ and ‘a stain on the national honour’. Admiral Horatio Nelson is Britain’s greatest naval hero. His determination, daring and humanity became a legend even before his overwhelming victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar when he was elevated to the status of Godhead. Courageous, charismatic, passionate, ruthless, a true statesman – according to his admirers. Vain, self important, melancholic, irrational, a modern day suicide bomber – according to his critics. Born in Norfolk, he experienced the death of his beloved mother at the age of nine, a loss he felt for the rest of his life. He went to sea at the age of 12, was a full captain at 21 and become overall command of British Naval forces in the West Indies by the time he was 28. He was one of Britain’s first national heroes receiving much adulation wherever he went. His victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile on 1791 established him as an immortal hero and he became known as ‘Nelson of the Nile’. It was at the Battle of the Nile where he first met Lady Hamilton, who he had an affair and then an illegitimate daughter with. On returning to Britain he bought a house for himself and Lady Hamilton in Merton, which her husband ‘Sir William Hamilton’ also lived with them until his death in 1903. His victories, however did not come without injury, most famously he lost the sight of his right eye, and his right arm was amputated during battle without the use of anaesthetic. He predicted his death at Trafalgar, and had a coffin specially made. When he was shot he said ‘I believe they’ve done it at last’. He survived his horrendous wounds for three and a half hours – just long enough to learn that victory had been won. He was 47 years old.