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The Battle of Trafalgar : At the cost of his own life, Lord Nelson showed Napoleon that he could rule neither Britain nor the waves.
The Battle of Trafalgar

Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of the French on the 2nd of December, 1804. He dreamt of a European Empire, but he knew that to achieve it, the problem of Britain’s formidable Royal Navy had to be addressed.

IN 1805, the French fleet was not at its height. Many able officers had been executed in the Revolution, and memories were still raw of Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

Napoleon therefore planned to ally with the Spanish fleet at Cadíz, before daring to confront the Royal Navy in the English Channel.

On the 21st of October, 1805, forty-one French and Spanish ships lay off Cape Trafalgar, near Cadíz on the southwest coast of Spain. Against them were thirty-three British ships commanded by Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson from the deck of HMS Victory.

In the sea-battle that followed, twenty-two French and Spanish ships were captured or destroyed, but not one British ship.

Nelson, who had already lost his right eye and arm many years before, was shot in the left shoulder, and died three hours later.

Yet Napoleon now accepted that his European empire would never include Britain, and that he would have to acquire it all by land.

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Picture: © Colin Smith, Geograph. CC BY-SA 2.0.. View original
The figurehead of HMS Victory, the ship from which Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson directed the Royal Navy fleet that defeated Napoleon’s larger but less astutely commanded force. The ship is preserved in Portsmouth.

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