[In Our Time] The Battle of Trafalgar

The Battle of Trafalgar 02/12/21 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podcastaddict.com/episode/132096274

Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p0b7g69l.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the events of 21st October 1805, in which the British fleet led by Nelson destroyed a combined Franco-Spanish fleet in the Atlantic off the coast of Spain. Nelson’s death that day was deeply mourned in Britain, and his example proved influential, and the battle was to help sever ties between Spain and its American empire. In France meanwhile, even before Nelson’s body was interred at St Paul’s, the setback at Trafalgar was overshadowed by Napoleon’s decisive victory over Russia and Austria at Austerlitz, though Napoleon’s search for his lost naval strength was to shape his plans for further conquests. The image above is from ‘The Battle of Trafalgar’ by JMW Turner (1824).

With James Davey Lecturer in Naval and Maritime History at the University of Exeter

Marianne Czisnik Independent researcher on Nelson and editor of his letters to Lady Hamilton


Kenneth Johnson Research Professor of National Security at Air University, Alabama

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: Eh, forgotten. January 2022?


  • Writing notes after ages – so all I remember now is the unsavoury news that Nelson was a supporter of slavery and the slave trade.
  • Plus the whole idea that he was carrying on an affair with a married woman – also news to me.
  • Somehow I never absorbed the idea that this was seven years before Napoleon invaded Russia and therefore even longer before Waterloo – the British hype it up so much that I always thought that this and Waterloo are inextricably linked. But nope, completely different era. Which made me very confused just one week later when I got a quiz question about a decisive battle in 1805 and I went “Shouldn’t Trafalgar have been much later?” Oh well.
  • But what the episode revealed is that hyping up Trafalgar isn’t exclusively British – the Spanish do it too, though not to such an extent.

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