Horatio Hornblower

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Ioan gruffudd 1

Horatio Hornblower, as portrayed by Ioan Gruffudd.

Horatio Hornblower was an officer in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Clever, but unhappy for most of his life, he found fame and fortune as a hero of the Navy.


Hornblower, the son of a doctor, was born on July 4, 1776 (the date of the adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence) in Hythe, Kent. He was given a classical education, and by the time he joined the Royal Navy at age seventeen, he was well-versed in Greek and Latin. He was tutored in French by a penniless French emigré and had an aptitude for mathematics, which served him well as a navigator.

Early careerEdit

Hornblower's early exploits were many and varied. Joining the Royal Navy as a midshipman, he fended off fire ships which interrupted his first (disastrous) examination for promotion to lieutenant. Still only an acting lieutenant, he was given command of the sloop Le Rêve, which blundered into a Spanish fleet in the fog, resulting in Hornblower's capture and imprisonment in Ferrol. He was finally confirmed as a commissioned lieutenant while still a prisoner of war. His daring rescue of some sailors from a shipwreck, and his honourable adherence to the parole he had given, was rewarded by his Spanish captors by his release. His captivity left him with a fluent knowledge of Spanish, which proved highly useful in several further adventures.

As a junior lieutenant, he served under Captain James Sawyer, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia on a trip to the Caribbean, during which he began his long friendship with William Bush. Returning to England, Hornblower was demobilised during the Peace of Amiens, causing him great financial distress -- he resorted to making a living as a professional gambler. He was employed for the Long Rooms, playing whist for a modest income. During this time, Hornblower took up residence in Portsmouth, in Mrs. Mason's boarding house.

In 1803, he was reactivated and given command of a sloop of war. Mrs. Mason's daughter, was incredibly distraught at this development. Out of pity, Hornblower proposed marriage. Maria happily accepted. He had been confirmed as Commander of HMS Hotspur when hostilities resumed against Napoleon. After gruelling service during the Blockade of Brest, he finally was promoted to captain and recalled to England. Once there, he met the secretary of the Admirality and post rank is conferred immediately when Hornblower agreed to take part in a clandestine operation that eventually lead to the resounding English victory at the Battle of Trafalgar that cost Horatio Nelson his life.

Hornblower then organised Nelson's funeral procession along the River Thames and had to deal with the near-sinking of the barge conveying the hero's coffin. Later, he secretly recovered sunken gold and silver from a sunken ship on the bottom of Marmorice Bay within the Ottoman Empire with the aid of pearl divers from Ceylon, narrowly escaping a Turkish warship at the end. Upon unloading the treasure and refitting, his ship was taken away from him to be given to the King of the Two Sicilies for diplomatic reasons. On his return to England, he found his two young children dying of smallpox.

He later made a long, difficult voyage in command of the frigate HMS Lydia, round the Horn to the Pacific, where he supported a madman, El Supremo, in his rebellion against the Spanish. He captured the Natividad, a much more powerful Spanish ship of the line, then had to reluctantly cede it to El Supremo to placate him. When he found that the Spanish had switched sides in the interim, he was forced to find and sink the ship he had captured. On his return voyage, he and his well-connected passenger, Lady Barbara Wellesley, the younger sister of Arthur Wellesley (later to become the Duke of Wellington) became dangerously attracted to each other.

Later careerEdit

After these exploits, he was given command of HMS Sutherland, a seventy four gun ship of the line. While waiting at his Mediterranean rendezvous point for the rest of his squadron - and its commander, Admiral Leighton - to arrive, he carried out a series of raids against the French along the south coast of Spain. He learned that a French squadron of four ships of the line was loose, having slipped the blockade. He decides that his duty required that he fight at four-to-one odds to prevent them from entering a well-protected harbour. In the process, his ship was crippled and, with two-thirds of the crew incapacitated, he surrendered to the French.

He was sent with his coxswain, Brown, and his injured first lieutenant, Bush, to Paris for a show trial and execution. During the journey, Hornblower and his companions escaped, and after a winter sojourn at the chateau of the Comte de Graçay, navigated down the Loire river to the coastal city of Nantes. There, he recaptured a Royal Navy cutter, the Witch of Endor, manned the vessel with a gang of slave labourers and escaped to the Channel Fleet.

He is very smart. Hornblower faced a court-martial for the loss of the Sutherland but was "most honourably acquitted." Among the honours he received was a knighthood. When he arrived home, he discovered that his first wife Maria had died in childbirth and that his infant son, Richard, has been adopted and cared for by Lady Barbara. As she had been widowed by the death of her husband, Hornblower's former commander, Admiral Leighton, they were free (after a decent interval) to marry. Barbara was more beautiful, cleverer and far richer than the poor Maria (whom Hornblower had more pitied than loved). Thereafter, he lived (uncomfortably) as a country squire in Kent.

Freedom from this purgatory came when he was promoted to commodore and sent on a mission to the Baltic Sea, where he was to be a diplomat as much as an officer. He foiled an assassination attempt on the Russian Czar and was influential in the ruler's decision to resist the French invasion of his vast country. He provided invaluable assistance in the defence of Riga against the French army, where he met Carl von Clausewitz.

He returned ill with Typhus to England, yet soon after his recovery went off to deal with mutineers off the coast of France. After taking the mutinous ship by trickery, he sets up the return of the Bourbons to France, and was created a peer as Baron Hornblower, of Boxley in the County of Kent.

When Napoleon returned from exile at the start of the Hundred Days, Hornblower is staying at the estate of the Comte de Graçay. He lead a Royalist Guerrilla movement; after capture by the French, he was about to be shot under an earlier warrant for his execution when he was saved by news of Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.

After several years ashore, he was promoted to Admiral and appointed Commander-in-Chief of the West Indies. He foiled an attempt by veterans of Napoleon's Imperial Guard to free Napoleon from his captivity on Saint Helena, captured a slave ship, and encountered Simón Bolívar's army. He retired to Kent and eventually becomes Admiral of the Fleet.

His final, improbable achievement occurred at his home, when he assisted a seemingly-mad man claiming to be Napoleon to travel to France. That person turned out to be Napoleon III, the nephew of Hornblower's great nemesis and the future president (and later emperor in his own right) of France. For his assistance, Lord Hornblower was created a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. At the end of his long and heroic career, he was wealthy, famous, and contented; a loving and indulgent husband and father; and finally free of the insecurities and self-loathing that had driven him throughout his life.

Traits and PersonalityEdit

Horatio Hornblower was chiefly characterized by his courage and integrity. He regarded himself as defiant and resourceful. His introverted nature continually isolated him from the people around him, including his closest friend, William Bush, and his wives never fully understood him.

He suffered from severe seasickness (like Horatio Nelson) at the beginning of his voyages and played excellent whist; he was tone-deaf and found music an incomprehensible irritant. He was philosophically opposed to flogging and capital punishment, to the extent that on one occasion he contrived an escape for his personal steward who would otherwise have been hanged for striking a superior.

Hornblower's shipsEdit

Behind the ScenesEdit

Horatio Hornblower was created by author C. S. Forester, who wrote 11 books about the character between 1937 and 1967. Hornblower is iconic in Age of Sail traditional naval fiction. There are many parallels between Hornblower and real naval officers of the period, especially Thomas Cochrane and Horatio Nelson. The name "Horatio" was inspired by the character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet and chosen also because of its association with contemporary figures such as Nelson.[1]

Published in 2012, The Jamaican Affair of 1805 was written by John Mahon,with permission of Forester's family to include the period immediately after Hornblower and the Crisis.

The Hornblower novels and short storiesEdit

The novels and short stories, in the order they were written:

  1. The Happy Return (1937, called Beat to Quarters in the US, novel)
  2. A Ship of the Line (1938, called simply Ship of the Line in the US, novel)
  3. Flying Colours (1938, spelled Flying Colors in some US editions, novel)
  4. Hornblower and the Hand of Destiny (1940, The Hand of Destiny in the U.S., short story)
  5. Hornblower and His Majesty (1940, short story)
  6. Hornblower's Charitable Offering (1941, The Bad Samaritan in the U.S., short story)
  7. The Commodore (1945, called Commodore Hornblower in the US, novel)
  8. Lord Hornblower (1946, novel)
  9. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1950, collected short stories)
  10. Hornblower and the Big Decision (1950, Hornblower's Temptation in the U.S., short story)
  11. Lieutenant Hornblower (1952, novel)
  12. Hornblower and the Atropos (1953, novel)
  13. Hornblower in the West Indies (1958, Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies in some US editions, novel)
  14. Hornblower and the Hotspur (1962, novel)
  15. The Last Encounter (1964, short story)
  16. Hornblower and the Crisis (1967, unfinished novel and short stories, Hornblower During the Crisis in some US editions)
  17. The Jamaican Affair of 1805 (2012, written by John Mahon by permission of Forester's family as the next novel chronologically after Hornblower and Crisis)

In chronological order:

  1. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (collected short stories)
  2. Hornblower and the Hand of Destiny (short story)
  3. Hornblower and the Big Decision (short story)
  4. Lieutenant Hornblower (novel)
  5. Hornblower and the Hotspur (novel)
  6. Hornblower and the Crisis (unfinished novel and short stories, Hornblower During the Crisis in some US editions)
  7. The Jamaican Affair of 1805 (novel by John Mahon)
  8. Hornblower and the Atropos (novel)
  9. The Happy Return (called Beat to Quarters in the US, novel)
  10. A Ship of the Line (called simply Ship of the Line in the US, novel)
  11. Hornblower's Charitable Offering, short story)
  12. Flying Colours (spelled Flying Colors in some US editions, novel)
  13. Hornblower and His Majesty (short story)
  14. The Commodore (called Commodore Hornblower in the US, novel)
  15. Lord Hornblower (novel)
  16. Hornblower in the West Indies (Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies in some US editions, novel)
  17. The Last Encounter (short story)

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower and Hornblower and the Hotspur were compiled in one book, variously titled Hornblower's Early Years, Horatio Hornblower Goes to Sea, or The Young Hornblower. There are also simplified "cadet" collections of the Hornblower books for children.

Hornblower and the Atropos, The Happy Return and A Ship of the Line were also compiled into one omnibus edition, called Captain Hornblower.

In the US Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line, and Flying Colours were also compiled into one book, called Captain Horatio Hornblower.

Flying Colours, The Commodore, Lord Hornblower, and Hornblower in the West Indies make up a third omnibus edition called Admiral Hornblower to fill out the series.

The Hornblower short storiesEdit

Three short stories by C. S. Forester about Hornblower were also published in 1940 and 1941. The stories are:

  • Hornblower's Charitable Offering (aka The Bad Samaritan), published in Argosy, May 1941, and was originally intended as a chapter for A Ship of the Line.
  • Hornblower and His Majesty, in Collier's, March 1940, and in Argosy, March 1941.
  • The Hand of Destiny, in Collier's, November 1940.

Two other stories Hornblower and the Widow McCool (aka Hornblower's Temptation) (1967) and The Last Encounter (1967), are often included with the unfinished novel Hornblower and the Crisis.

Another short story The Point And The Edge is included as an outline only in The Hornblower Companion (1964), a book in which Forester describes and illustrates with maps the incidents which his fictional hero experienced, and describes how the novels were written, what inspired them and how they relate to the real world of the Royal Navy.

Hornblower in other mediaEdit

Influence on other FictionEdit

  • The Star Trek character James T. Kirk was originally also supposedly modelled after Hornblower. Nicholas Meyer, director of some of the most well regarded Star Trek films, frequently cites Horatio Hornblower as one of his primary influences.
  • Gene Roddenberry based the Star Trek character of Captain Picard on Hornblower [1].
  • The science fiction character John Grimes is acknowledged by his author A. Bertram Chandler to be not only based upon Horatio Hornblower, but has Hornblower himself as a distant relative.
  • The Hope science fiction series by David Feintuch is heavily influenced by the Hornblower series.
  • The popular Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell were inspired by C.S. Forester's Hornblower series.
  • Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels are also inspired by Hornblower, and retell some of the same episodes of naval history.
  • David Weber's character Honor Harrington closely parallels Hornblower; the identical initials are meant to reinforce this connection.
  • Captain Honario Harpplayer, R.N. is a short story parody written by the science fiction author Harry Harrison substituting Hornblower's tone-deafness with complete colour-blindness, with the result that he cannot recognise a little green man as an alien.



Notes Edit

  1. C. S. Forester, The Hornblower Companion, NY, 1964, p. 87

External linksEdit

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