A Ship of the Line
A ship of the line cover
Author C. S. Forester
Publication 1938
Publication Order
Preceded by
The Happy Return
Followed by
Flying Colours
May 1810 Oct 1810
Preceded by
The Happy Return
Followed by
Hornblower's Charitable Offering

A Ship of the Line, first published in 1938, was the second Horatio Hornblower novel written by C. S. Forester. Chronologically, it is the seventh book in the series, and follows Hornblower during his tour as captain of a ship of the line.

Plot summaryEdit

Hornblower has recently returned to England with the frigate HMS Lydia, having gained widespread fame (but no financial stability) as a result of sinking the superior ship Natividad in battle. As a reward for his exploits, he is given command of HMS Sutherland, which is, in Hornblower's estimation, the ugliest ship of the line in the Royal Navy. He is assigned to serve under Rear Admiral Percy Leighton, Lady Barbara Wellesley's new husband. Throughout, Hornblower is torn between his love for Lady Barbara and his sense of duty and loyalty to his frumpy wife, Maria. His feelings for his wife are complicated by the previous loss of both of his children to smallpox.

Hornblower's first orders are to escort an East Indian convoy off the Spanish coast. He masterfully defends them from simultaneous attack by two faster, more manoeuvrable privateers. Since he has been forced to sail with an understrength crew, and had to make do with "lubbers, sheepstealers, and bigamists", he breaks admiralty regulations and impresses twenty men from each vessel in the convoy just before they part ways. With his ship fully manned, Hornblower wreaks havoc on the French-controlled Spanish coast. He captures a French brig by surprise, storms a French fort, takes two more vessels as prizes, repeatedly fires upon several thousand French soldiers marching along a coastal road, and saves his Admiral's ship from certain ruin by towing it away from a French battery during a severe storm.

When he encounters a squadron of four French ships of the line that have broken through the English blockade of Toulon, he attacks them against overwhelming odds, and manages to disable or heavily damage all of them. However, with many of his men killed or wounded and his ship dismasted, he is forced to strike his colours and surrender.

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