Today on January 9, 1806, one of Britain’s most decorated heroes, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, was buried at St Paul’s Cathedral after receiving a state funeral.
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson and 1st Duke of Bronte, is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most beloved naval commanders. Nelson led the Royal Navy to several important victories during the Napoleonic Wars. Historians often credit him with saving Britain from invasion. His contemporaries remember him for his inspirational leadership and innovative naval tactics that often took the enemy by surprise. Nelson suffered several serious injuries throughout his career. As Vice-Admiral, he lost an eye in Corsica and then most of an arm while fighting in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. In 1798, he achieved a decisive victory at the Battle of the Nile, stranding Napoleon and his soldiers in Egypt.
Throughout the early nineteenth century, Europe was shaken by the Napoleonic Wars. The French Emperor spent months amassing a large army in Normandy. His soldiers built hundreds of transport vessels to shuttle them across the English Channel. However, the British dominated the narrow waterway. Napoleon required the French fleet to sail north to ensure a safe crossing. On October 21, 1805, Nelson led an outnumbered and outgunned British fleet to intercept the French at Trafalgar. He deployed an innovative tactic by splitting his fleet into two columns and sailing straight into his enemy’s line. However, shortly into the battle he was shot and mortally wounded aboard HMS Victory.
Nevertheless, the British emerged victorious and saved their country from invasion. But the victory came at a heavy price with the loss of Horatio Nelson. The Admiral's body was preserved in a barrel of brandy while being transported back home. He quickly became a national hero and was commemorated with a column at Trafalgar Square in London. The British government held a state funeral for three days in the capital. A funeral procession consisting of 32 admirals, over one hundred captains, and 10,000 soldiers escorted Nelson’s body to St Paul’s Cathedral. A 4-hour long mass and ceremony were held before his body was finally laid to rest.