Published: October 2005

Battle of Trafalgar

Painting Trafalgar

Admiral Lord Nelson's Fatal Victory

With a daring naval maneuver at Trafalgar 200 years ago this month, Admiral Lord Nelson led his outnumbered British fleet against France and Spain—and perished victorious.

By Simon Warrall
Art by Justin Sweet

As Lt. Paul Nicolas stood on the forward edge of the poop deck of H.M.S. Belleisle, a 74-gun ship of the line, the only thing he could think of was lying down. It wasn't that he was tired. But he was only 16 and new to the ship. Now he was about to get his first taste of battle. It was shortly after midday on October 21, 1805, near Cádiz in southern Spain. As Belleisle plowed slowly toward the enemy, Nicolas could see a crescent-shaped line of 33 French and Spanish ships stretching for miles along the coast from Cape Roche in the north to Cape Trafalgar in the south.

Belleisle's crew was in boisterous spirits. They'd been waiting more than two months to have a go at Johnny Crapaud, as they called the French. The gunners had chalked "Victory or Death" on their cannon. Earlier that morning the ship's band had played patriotic tunes like "Hearts of Oak" and "Britons, Strike Home!"

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