Richard Arthur Hornblower was the third child and second son of Horatio Hornblower and his first wife, Maria Hornblower.  He was their only surviving child. He was named Richard Arthur for his godfathers Richard and Arthur Wellesley who would later become his uncles by marriage.

He was born during his father's captivity in France. His mother died in childbirth, and Lady Barbara Wellesley fostered him even before marrying his father. After she married Horatio, she referred to Richard as her son, but resented it when outsiders assumed he was her natural child.

In the short story, "The Last Encounter," Richard was said to be a colonel in the Guards who served in attendance on the young queen at court. Hornblower was contemplating giving his son an additional 500 pounds a year to alleviate his many necessary tailor's bills. It was also implied that he was married as Hornblower also contemplated his 'promising grandchildren.'