Jane Austen, Meritocracy, the Royal Navy, and Valentine’s Day

So, yesterday was St. Valentine’s Day. I didn’t have a post for it, mostly because it is really of no particular importance in my life. Does that sadden me? Sometimes. Those who have been here awhile will understand why to a point, for the others it is not important, even to me anymore. But that does not mean that I don’t believe that the most important thing behind a successful man is a woman (Vice Versa? Maybe).

But how did we get here?  John-Paul Menez writing in the US Naval Institue blog sheds some light.

 

“It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education.”

 

– John Paul Jones

More so than others, the human dispositions for love and conflict define our history, society, and art. Soldiers associated with the later, serving in the trenches of World War I sought distraction, solace, perhaps meaning, in their situation by reading about the former in the novels of the English writer Jane Austen. Austen’s novels, distributed by the British Army(1), about the lives of early 19th-century noblewomen were so loved by troops that doctors believed they calmed the souls and minds of those suffering “shell shock.” Miss Austen’s voice was the first contemporary antidote to the issue we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The thought of snake eating door kickers devouring stories about town balls is a bit difficult to grasp today. But great art, regardless of its origins, pierces through time and circumstance. Even the eminent Rudyard Kipling, famously know as the author of the poem If(2) printed on posters hanging on every midshipman’s bulkhead and whose only son died on the Western Front, penned The Janeites – a short story about a fellowship of veterans and secret Jane Austen fans.

December 16 marked Jane Austen’s 244th birthday. She is one of The Greats of the English Canon. Accordingly, there are few others who have influenced how we view the World and ourselves. It is a great credit, then, to every sailor and marine that a major influence on her life and writing was a strong family connection and affection for the navy. Her last novel Persuasion, posthumously published in 1817, dealt in depth about the lives of the officers and men of the Royal Navy – their time at sea during the Napoleonic Wars and ashore building their homes and families. Persuasion, her most mature novel, specifically gives us a time capsule into a quickly evolving society where the rise of industrialization promoted virtues such as enterprise and intrepidity, as exemplified by the navy, while criticizing classical (read: old fashioned) definitions of chivalry caricatured by the aristocratic nobility.

I too am an Austen fan, which will likely surprise no one. She is a very good window into her world. And yes, her world definitely included the Royal Navy, in which two of her brothers made their career (more later). For instance:

What was real to Miss Austen? Like her heroines, she navigated the privileges and uncertainty of a minor noblewoman in the gentry. Her father was a respected curate in Hampshire Country. Her family retained a handful of servants. She received an abbreviated education at Oxford but was otherwise homeschooled by a governess. While upper class, Austen herself would likely have been one of the poorer heroines in her own novels.

And like Anne Elliot, a spinster at the age of 27 in Persuasion, her financial security almost completely depended on men through a marriage. Sons inherited wealth, not daughters. As comical as Mrs. Bennett’s hysterics about destitution in Austen’s most popular novel Pride and Persuasion may be, it was a cold stark truth. The consequences of not finding a husband were so dire that it completely consumes the motivations of her characters in her early novels. Unpleasant realities like these were hardly presented in the literature before Austen. […]

Austen’s dedication to reality also presents us with a detailed account into the forces changing the World. Broadly, it was industrialization and globalization in which Austen’s own family played a staring role. The Royal Navy was the most technologically and administratively advanced institution of that time with close to 1,000 ships of which well over 100 were ships-of-the-line.(7) These ocean going machines crewed by 800 men chased Napoleon’s fleets across the oceans and were the vice that tightened England’s grip on her overseas empire. Unlike the army officers in Austen’s other novels whose most critical soldiering skill was riding a horse, naval officers had to master navigation, mathematics, and seamanship. Often as the Crown’s only representative in a region, naval officers conversed in the official diplomatic language of French. The Royal Navy also commissioned scientific expeditions such as the voyage of HMS Endeavor under Lieutenant Cook. Sailors spent years(8) away from loved ones and country in the harshest of conditions on the edge of an unexplored bleak dark cold frontier.

Up until 1871 in the British Army, gentlemen could purchase their commissions and an entire unit to command with it.(9) However, the importance and technical skills of the navy demanded competence before social rank. All naval officers had to serve as midshipmen and apprentice at sea before taking the rigorous lieutenant’s examination and receiving their commission. While having connections and a notable family was an advantage, a middle-class man of modest background, even prior enlisted sailors, could and would advance through the officer ranks on the merit of their dedication and courage.

Indeed so, the Royal Navy was the first of what we now call a ‘meritocracy’.

The Austen family delivered their own to the Sea. Not one, but two of Austen’s brothers attained flag rank in the Royal Navy. Charles John Austen, Jane’s youngest and favorite brother, rose to the rank of Rear Admiral and served as the Commander-In-Chief of the Royal Navy’s East Indies and China Station. Young Charles purchased a set of topaz crosses for Jane and her sister Cassandra with his prize money from a captured ship. Charles’ cross became one of Jane’s most treasured possessions.

Jane’s older brother, Francis William Austen, outdid his younger sibling by earning a knighthood and attainting the highest rank of Admiral of the Fleet. Sir Francis even served with Lord Nelson, who described Austen as an “excellent young man,” prior to Trafalgar. He also fought in the Battle of Santo Domingo which is the same battle the fictional Wentworth was decorated for his actions and promoted to Commander prior to his meeting Anne Elliot. Sir Francis captured over 40 prizes and eventually became the Commander-In-Chief of the Royal Navy’s North American and West Indies Station.

Think about that for a minute, and then realize that Lord Nelson, himself, was much the same, someplace between the middle class and the lower upper class, with no particularly notable antecedents, but became the hero of almost the entire world. To the point that the King himself, upon the news of Trafalgar, wondered whether the victory was worth the loss of this one man.

Money and rank reflect the remnants of the old social system where the chivalrous nobility had a duty to benevolently govern the masses. And that system was reasonable for its time. While Persuasion takes place during the beginning of the Modern Era, it characterizes the sentiments of the earlier part of the Modern Era – the Romantic Period. During the Romantic Period society began shifting their senses towards intuition, individualism, nature and beauty – a rebuke of the industrialization and reason starting to control their lives. That said, what you see in Persuasion is not so much a rejection of industrialization and reason, but a sailor’s mastery of technology to improve himself and a rebuke of what was reasonable, money and class, in pursuit of the heart and a life at sea – all topics competent sailors master.

I think it also something that anybody desiring to be viewed as competent and worthy of notice must also master.

“A little beauty, and a few smiles, and a few compliments to the navy, and I am a lost man.”

 

– Captain Fredrick Wentworth from Persuasion

Happy Valentine’s weekend!

 

Looking Back; Looking Forward

So, We made it. Happy New Year! That may be overoptimistic, but maybe not if we keep our eye on the ball, and attempt to do what’s right. I think we’ll start the year with some videos, some looking back in gratitude, and some looking forward in anticipation.

Seventy-Five years ago the Anglophone countries were liberating the world. Fifty years from now, they will still be the guardians of freedom.

Back first, from those great veterans at Black Rifle Coffee.

And

And one more

Isn’t it nice to see a company doing something like this, rather than the crap we’ve become used to!

And then there is the future, with the proper perspective reaching back to Nelson, Drake, and beyond.

Well, sailors will be sailors, I’ve seen ours behave far worse.

And now, Back to work…

A glitch, overcome, and on to New York, once the scene of the second largest British amphibious assault, now a very friendly city, and a chance to show how soft power follows the flag.

 

Hms Queen Elizabeth and soon after that HMS Prince of Wales will form the heart of two Carrier Battle Groups almost as strong as those built around our CVN’s This is a huge move back into power projection for the British. As you saw a bit of in the videos, they have had the cooperation of the USN, but it goes much further. Capt Jerry Kid, RN commanding HMS Queen Elizabeth was also the last commanding officer of HMS Ark Royal when she launched the last Harrier at sea, eight years ago, just before being decommissioned.

Eight years is a lifetime for the knowledge needed to operate a carrier, let alone a CBG. The USN has worked very hard to keep the ability current in the RN, to the point of embedding key personnel directly into USN squadrons.

Obviously, there are advantages to the US in the re-development of the strike carrier in our closest ally’s navy. But it is inconceivable that we would have done this with anybody but the British.

Our trust extends to the point that on occasion entire USMC squadrons are planned to be assigned to these ships, under British command, something we have never done.

Brittania may no longer rule all the waves, but she will where the Queen Elizabeth class is on-site. And that is an excellent thing for the free peoples of the world.

A queen in New York

 

The Immortal Memory

The Battle of Trafalgar by J. M. W. Turner (oi...

Image via Wikipedia

If you wish to accuse me of being a bit tardy, I will accede. This perennial post of mine, most years since the very first, should have been yesterday’s post. I simply forgot. So unlike in naval combat, in blogging late is better than never.


If you remember, I referred a while back to President Jefferson’s open letter regarding the return of Louisiana to France from Spain, where he commented that “on that day we shall have to marry ourselves to the British fleet and people”, and later commented “that from that day forward France shall end at her low water mark”. This is the day that France (and Spain) would forever lose control of the sea to Great Britain.

Today is the anniversary of a battle to rank with Salamis, with Waterloo, and with Yorktown. For today the English speaking peoples with their concepts of individual liberty and rights took control of the sea.

That battle is Trafalgar. The battle was fought off of the south-west coast of Spain between the British Squadron with 27 Ships-of-the-Line and the combined French and Spanish fleets with 33.

The Franco-Spanish fleet was under orders to sail for Brest to help accomplish the invasion of England, which was, by far, Napoleon’s most steadfast enemy.

Remember these were sailing ships, completely dependent on the wind. and at Trafalgar, there was very little. The French and especially the Spanish were short-handed and had to fill their ship’s companies with soldiers. The British on the other hand had been blockading the coast for years and had been drilled mercilessly. Their commander, himself, had not been off the flagship for more than two years.

Alfred Thayer Mahan in his classic The Influence of Sea Power upon History puts it this way: “Those distant, storm-tossed ships, never seen by the Grande Armee, were all that stood between it and world domination.

And so today, in 1805, the battle was joined. The British had the weather gage and a very unusual plan. Because of the light wind, they would divide their battle line in two, with each squadron approaching the Franco-Spanish line at an acute angle. With a well-trained enemy, this would have been nearly suicidal but, under these conditions it allowed the British to engage the entire fleet and win the battle in a single day.

The British were under the command of a man who had had his introduction to naval war in the American Revolution, he fought in several minor battles off Toulon, was integral in the capture of Corsica, was captain of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. At the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he lost his right arm, he won a decisive victory over the French at The Battle of the Nile and against the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen.

At Trafalgar the British fleet went into battle with this signal flying from the flagship:

That flagship is, of course, the HMS Victory, which is now the oldest naval ship in regular commission in the world.


An aside, the second oldest, USS Constitution (and the oldest afloat) was launched on 21 October 1797. Over last weekend she sailed across Boston Harbor to Fort Independence on Castle Island where she fired a twenty-one gun salute, as she returned she also fired a salute at Coast Guard Sector Boston, the former Edmund Hartt’s Shipyard, where she was built. Here she is, afloat and underway

CASEY SCOULAR/U.S. NAVY


The Admiral in command is Horatio, Lord Nelson.

Or to give him his full name:

Admiral Lord Nelson

The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim

as it is inscribed on his coffin in St. Paul’s cathedral, for he was killed by a French marine during the battle.

The first tribute to Nelson was fittingly offered at sea by sailors of Vice-Admiral Dmitry Senyavin’s passing Russian squadron, which saluted on learning of the death.

King George III, upon receiving the news, is reported to have said, in tears, “We have lost more than we have won”.

And the Times reported:

We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice. The country has gained the most splendid and decisive Victory that has ever graced the naval annals of England; but it has been dearly purchased.

For us, as Americans, much of the development of our country, the end of slavery, and the freedom of all American republics from, the Canadian Arctic to Tierra del Fuego owe their self-government to the victory by Lord Nelson and the continuing efforts throughout the nineteenth century of the Royal Navy.

Even today, we note that HMS Queen Elizabeth, the new British strike carrier is working up off the coast of North America, as she learns in cooperation with our navy, how to project force in the twenty-first century

And so tonight in the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth navies, and at least in some places in the United States Navy and even in other navies and places will be drunk the one naval toast that is drunk in total silence:

The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him”

The traditional music to follow the toast is: Rule Britannia.

 

The Bonhomme Richard

The British report they may have found the remains of the Bonhomme Richard, John Paul Jone’s flagship when he fought the Serapis, off Flamborough Head on the east coast of England.

This, of course, is the battle (and a hard-fought one) where he gave the Continental Navy, and all Americans down to this day, an ideal to live up to with his reply as to whether he had surrendered after his colors were shot away. He said.

“I have not yet begun to fight.”

Thus are traditions formed. From J. L. Bell of Boston 1775.

Last week the British press reported that marine archeologists announced the discovery of the wreck of the Bonhomme Richard, the French-built Continental Navy warship commanded by John Paul Jones during his most celebrated battle.

The Yorkshire Post reported:

Mystery has for decades surrounded the exact location of the wreck. It went down in flames during the American Revolutionary war, at the bloody Battle of Flamborough Head in 1779, in which Jones led a makeshift flotilla of French ships into the North Sea, harassing commercial shipping as far as Bridlington.In a deadly skirmish in which both sides claimed victory, Jones – who had fled his native Scotland to become one of the first commanders in the rebel service – took over the 50-gun British frigate HMS Serapis, and went to America a hero.

And where did Jones’s foundering flagship end up? The Post said:

Previously believed to be some six miles out to sea, explorers now say the site is walkable from the beach and visible from the cliffs above. . . .“You can walk out on to the wreck from the shore. You can literally go to the beach and look in the water and see where it is. And you can go on the cliffs and look down on it and see the shadow’s outline. . . . It’s not where everyone thought it was going to be. We have made a brand spanking new determination of where the wreck is actually located.”

It should be noted that Bell reminds us:

Another wrinkle to this story is that U.S. government would claim the wreckage, as it does any U.S. naval ship anywhere in the world. Back in 1779, of course, the British government didn’t recognize the U.S. of A. or its laws. But that was what all the fighting was about, wasn’t it?

So we’ll see, if it is, and if it becomes an attraction. It surely is a storied battle.

The Immortal Memory

As we commented the other day, we have entered the season of critical Anglo-Saxon Battles, yesterday was the 237th Anniversary of Lord Cornwallis”s surrender to General Washington at Yorktown. In 1918 the victorious battles of the allies would soon result in the Armistice. But today is the anniversary of perhaps the most important battle of the modern age.During the negotiations with France when we were trying to buy New Orléans President Jefferson wrote an open letter regarding the return of Louisiana to France from Spain, where he commented that “on that day we shall have to marry ourselves to the British fleet and people”, meaning if France took control of Louisiana it would mean war between France and the United States, and later commented “that from that day forward France shall end at her low water mark” Of course we know that France sold Louisiana to the US so it ended well.

But, this is the day that France (and Spain) would forever lose control of the sea to Great Britain.

Today is the anniversary of a battle to rank with Salamis, with Waterloo, and with Yorktown. For today the English-speaking peoples with our concepts of individual liberty and rights took control of the sea.

That battle is Trafalgar. The battle was fought off of the south-west coast of Spain between the British Squadron with 27 Ships-of-the-Line and the combined French and Spanish fleets with 33.

The Franco-Spanish fleet was under orders to sail for Brest to help accomplish the invasion of England, which was, by far, Napoleons most steadfast enemy.

Remember these were sailing ships, completely dependent on the wind. and at Trafalgar, there was very little. The French and especially the Spanish were short-handed and had to fill their ship’s companies with soldiers. The British on the other hand had blockaded the coast for years and had been drilled mercilessly. Their commander, himself, had not been off the flagship for more than two years.

Alfred Thayer Mahan in his classic The Influence of Sea Power upon History puts it this way: “Those distant, storm-tossed ships, never seen by the Grande Armee, were all that stood between it and world domination.

And so today, in 1805, the battle was joined. The British had the weather gage and a very unusual plan. Because of the light wind (and against standing orders), they would divide their battle line in two, with each squadron approaching the Franco-Spanish line at an acute angle. With a well-trained enemy, this would have been nearly suicidal but, under these conditions it allowed the British to engage the entire fleet and win the battle in a single day.

The British were under the command of a man who had his introduction to naval war in the American Revolution, he fought in several minor battles off Toulon, was integral in the capture of Corsica, was captain of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. At the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he lost his right arm, he won a decisive victory over the French at The Battle of the Nile and against the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen.

At Trafalgar the British fleet went into battle with this signal flying from the flagship:

That flagship is, of course, the HMS Victory, which is now the oldest naval ship in regular commission in the world.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth

The Admiral in command was Horatio, Lord Nelson.

Or to give him his full name:

Admiral Lord Nelson

The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim

as it is inscribed on his coffin in St. Paul’s Cathedral, for he was killed by a French marine during the battle.

The first tribute to Nelson was fittingly offered at sea by sailors of Vice-Admiral Dmitry Senyavin’s passing Russian squadron, which saluted on learning of the death.

It is also interesting Nelson being Vice Admiral of the White is the reason that the Royal Navy from that day flies the White Ensign before it flew all three depending on the fleet commander’s rank. The black hatband on British, American, and Russian naval enlisted caps all memorialize Nelson as well.

King George III, upon receiving the news, is reported to have said, in tears, “We have lost more than we have won”.

And the Times reported:

We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice. The country has gained the most splendid and decisive Victory that has ever graced the naval annals of England; but it has been dearly purchased.

Great Britain would hold uncontested command of the sea, even joining World War I partly to prevent Germany from overtaking the Royal Navy until, in 1921, she agreed to parity with the United States at the Washington Naval Conference. And it should be noted, that even then, it was not willingly, Britain was exhausted and bankrupt from the Great War, and probably recognized that the US would use her sea power much as Britain had, which has proved to be the case. It is also from this date that the United Kingdom began to recede from the first rank of great powers, although her legacy has been for the most part upheld by the US and the Commonwealth.

That’s fine, I hear you say, what’s that got to do with me, especially as an American, these 212 years later? Several things which we will talk about a bit here.

  1. The Atlantic Slave Trade ended because the British decided that it should and the Americans agreed. This led to the establishment of patrols by both navies off the west coast of Africa, effectively ending the trade. Without this, and without the Abolitionist sentiment in the United Kingdom, it is almost inconceivable that slavery would have ended in the western world.
  2. The South and Central American Republics remain independent (and sometimes free) countries. After the Napoleonic wars, Metternich’s Council of Vienna considered all of continental Europe helping Spain recover her American colonies until they found out that they would have to go through the Royal Navy. Yes, we proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 after Prime Minister George Canning proposed a joint statement, the story is that Secretary of State John Q. Adams said that would make us look like a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war. Therefore, we proclaimed it unilaterally. But it was enforced almost exclusively until the Spanish-American War by the Royal Navy because it was to the advantage of British mercantile interests. Britain thereby performed the same service for the New World that the US would for Europe in the last half of the Twentieth Century.
  3. The growth and development of America, if a continental power had regained control of Mexico there is a very good chance that it would have expanded into the heartland of America, certainly Texas and entirely possibly all or most of the Louisiana Purchase.

And so we, as Americans, even as the British, should remain grateful for those ‘distant storm-tossed ships’ of the Royal Navy, led by one of the great commanders of history.

And so, I give you the toast that will be drunk tonight in the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth navies, and at least in some places in the United States Navy and even in other navies and places. It is the one traditionally naval toast that is drunk in total silence:

The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him”

The traditional music to follow the toast is Rule Britannia.

And so today as the Queen Elizabeth, the first of the CVFs prepares to join the fleet, we again see the Royal Navy preparing to take on all the tasks that the Anglo-Saxons have performed for the world’s benefit since the Armada, itself.

In a remarkable coincidence, the other remaining warship of the period USS Constitution was christened on this day in 1797 at the Boston Navy Yard. While HMS Victory is the oldest ship in commission, USS Constitution (nicknamed “Old Ironsides”) is the oldest warship still afloat and able to sail on its own. Victory is in permanent drydock.

And yes, last night, this happened.

#Tyler Strong

The Immortal Memory

During the negotiations with France when we were trying to buy New Orléans President Jefferson wrote an open letter regarding the return of Louisiana to France from Spain, where he commented that “on that day we shall have to marry ourselves to the British fleet and people”, meaning if France took control of Louisiana it would mean war between France and the United States, and later commented “that from that day forward France shall end at her low water mark” Of course we know that France sold Louisiana to the US so it ended well.

But, this is the day that France (and Spain) would forever lose control of the sea to Great Britain.

Today is the anniversary of a battle to rank with Salamis, with Waterloo, and with Yorktown. For today the English-speaking peoples with our concepts of individual liberty and rights took control of the sea.

That battle is Trafalgar. The battle was fought off of the south-west coast of Spain between the British Squadron with 27 Ships-of-the-Line and the combined French and Spanish fleets with 33.

The Franco-Spanish fleet was under orders to sail for Brest to help accomplish the invasion of England, which was, by far, Napoleons most steadfast enemy.

Remember these were sailing ships, completely dependent on the wind. and at Trafalgar there was very little. The French and especially the Spanish were short-handed and had to fill their ship’s companies with soldiers. The British on the other hand had blockaded the coast for years and had been drilled mercilessly. Their commander, himself, had not been off the flagship for more than two years.

Alfred Thayer Mahan in his classic The Influence of Sea Power upon History puts it this way: “Those distant, storm-tossed ships, never seen by the Grande Armee, were all that stood between it and world domination.

And so today, in 1805, the battle was joined. The British had the weather gage, and a very unusual plan. Because of the light wind (and against standing orders) they would divide their battle line in two, with each squadron approaching the Franco-Spanish line at an acute angle. With a well-trained enemy, this would have been nearly suicidal but, under these conditions it allowed the British to engage the entire fleet and win the battle in a single day.

The British were under the command of a man who had his introduction to naval war in the American Revolution, he fought in several minor battles off Toulon, was integral in the capture of Corsica, was captain of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. At the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he lost his right arm, he won a decisive victory over the French at The Battle of the Nile and against the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen.

At Trafalgar the British fleet went into battle with this signal flying from the flagship:

That flagship is, of course, the HMS Victory, which is now the oldest naval ship in regular commission in the world.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory , HM Naval Base, Portsmouth

The Admiral in command was Horatio, Lord Nelson.

Or to give him his full name:

Admiral Lord Nelson

The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim

as it is inscribed on his coffin in St. Paul’s Cathedral, for he was killed by a French marine during the battle.

The first tribute to Nelson was fittingly offered at sea by sailors of Vice-Admiral Dmitry Senyavin’s passing Russian squadron, which saluted on learning of the death.

It is also interesting Nelson being Vice Admiral of the White is the reason that the Royal Navy from that day flies the White Ensign, before it flew all three depending on the fleet commander’s rank. The black hatband on British, American, and Russian naval enlisted caps all memorialize Nelson as well.

King George III, upon receiving the news, is reported to have said, in tears, “We have lost more than we have won”.

And the Times reported:

We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice. The country has gained the most splendid and decisive Victory that has ever graced the naval annals of England; but it has been dearly purchased.

Great Britain would hold uncontested command of the sea, even joining World War I partly to prevent Germany from overtaking the Royal Navy until, in 1921, she agreed to parity with the United States at the Washington Naval Conference. And it should be noted, that even then, it was not willingly, Britain was exhausted and bankrupt from the Great War, and probably recognized that the US would use her sea power much as Britain had, which has proved to be the case. It is also from this date that the United Kingdom began to recede from the first rank of great powers, although her legacy has been for the most part upheld by the US and the Commonwealth.

That’s fine, I hear you say, what’s that got to do with me, especially as an American, these 212 years later? Several things which we will talk about a bit here.

  1. The Atlantic Slave Trade ended because the British decided that it should and the Americans agreed. This led to the establishment of patrols by both navies off the west coast of Africa, effectively ending the trade. Without this, and without the Abolitionist sentiment in the United Kingdom, it is almost inconceivable that slavery would have ended in the western world.
  2. The South and Central American Republics remain independent (and sometimes free) countries. After the Napoleonic wars Metternich’s Council of Vienna considered all of continental Europe helping Spain recover her American colonies, until they found out that they would have to go through the Royal Navy. Yes, we proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 after Prime Minister George Canning proposed a joint statement, the story is that Secretary of State John Q. Adams said that would make us look like a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war. Therefore, we proclaimed it unilaterally. But it was enforced almost exclusively until the Spanish-American War by the Royal Navy because it was to the advantage of British mercantile interests. Britain thereby performed the same service for the New World that the US would for Europe in the last half of the Twentieth Century.
  3. The growth and development of America, if a continental power had regained control of Mexico there is a very good chance that it would have expanded into the heartland of America, certainly Texas and entirely possibly all or most of the Louisiana Purchase.

And so we, as Americans, even as the British, should remain grateful for those ‘distant storm-tossed ships’ of the Royal Navy, led by one of the great commanders of history.

And so, I give you the toast that will be drunk tonight in the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth navies, and at least in some places in the United States Navy and even in other navies and places. It is the one traditionally naval toast that is drunk in total silence:

The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him”

The traditional music to follow the toast is: Rule Britannia.

And so today as the Queen Elizabeth, the first of the CVFs prepares to join the fleet, we again see the Royal Navy prepare to take on all the tasks that the Anglo-Saxons have performed for the world’s benefit since the Armada, itself.

In a remarkable coincidence, the other remaining warship of the period USS Constitution was christened on this day in 1797 at the Boston Navy Yard. While HMS Victory is the oldest ship in commission, USS Constitution (nicknamed “Old Ironsides”) is the oldest warship still afloat and able to sail on its own. Victory is in permanent drydock.

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