Great Sea Fights: Cape St Vincent (1797) Part 2 – The Analysis

February 2021

This second episode in our special series on the Battle of Cape St Vincent offers an analysis of the battle from two of the world’s leading Nelson scholars: John Sugden and Marianne Czisnik. Dr Sam Willis speaks to them both and explores the realities of battle at sea in the age of sail. This battle is famous because of the extraordinary event that occurred when Horatio Nelson boarded one Spanish ship from another he had already captured. But how should we see this event as historians? To what extent was Nelson acting independently? Was he breaking his orders and if so was he right to do so? How did the battle affect the war? This episode gets to the very foundations of the nature of seapower in the Age of Sail.Videos produced with the assistance of the Lloyds Register Foundation and with thanks to the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

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    Sam Willis

    From the Society for Nautical Research, in partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, I’m Sam Willis, and this is the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history.

    This is the second episode in our ‘Great Sea Fights: The Battle of St. Vincent special’. The first episode explored the outline of the battle and included two readings of primary sources from sailors who were actually there and witnessed those most remarkable events first-hand. Today, we’re going to hear from two world-renowned Nelson scholars and biographers, John Sugden and Marianne Czisnik, who will cast their eyes over the battle to explore its influence on the war, and in particular, its influence on the life of the battle’s great hero Horatio Nelson. First up is John Sugden, whose two-volume ‘Life of Nelson: A Dream of Glory’ and ‘The Sword of Albion’, has been described as the most comprehensive and intimate life of Nelson ever written. John is famous for exploring Nelson’s famous victories such as the battles of the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar, as well as his lesser known, but equally gripping campaigns. He’s also explored the man behind the military prowess, a man riven with paradoxes and schisms, the fighting admiral and the glory hunter, the national hero, and the indigent commoner, the family man, and the adulterer. John is a deeply knowledgeable man, and also extremely entertaining. I hope you enjoy listening to him as much as I enjoyed talking to him. Here’s John.

    Hi, John, thanks so much for talking to me today.

    Dr John Sugden

    That’s great Sam; Look forward to it.

    Sam Willis

    How do we know about St. Vincent; as a historian, what sources can we look at?

    Dr John Sugden

    Well, from the British side (sadly, the Spanish side hasn’t been fully researched) from the British side, you obviously go to the logbooks of the ships that were involved and you also go to the Admiralty files. And surprisingly, they are quite a few other occasional accounts from participants. But they’re widely scattered, they’re not in any one place. So, you just have to take your choice and search. I personally think that the real treasure trove is the Spanish archives. And nobody has really investigated them.

    Sam Willis

    Yes, there’s much more to come from there, isn’t there? I mean, and looking at the log, I particularly enjoy looking at logbooks. I remember, when I was doing my PhD and I, just as an experiment, I went to the National Archives, and I got out the log of the Victory. And I sat and I read it. Is there a particular historical source for naval battles that you enjoy reading more than any other?

    Dr John Sugden

    No, not particularly, as long as they are giving me any information, I don’t care what they are. I like the personal letters myself. Because sometimes they go beyond the formalities of the documentation. Even the dispatches are often quite formal and cold. Whereas the personal recollections of the participants, I find, are often more informing.

    Sam Willis

    And when you’re writing about a battle like this, and I think St Vincent really comes to mind because there are several well-known or unsupported stories in the narrative of the action, how do you deal with those as a historian? I’m particularly thinking of the one when Jarvis is standing there, and he supposedly gets covered in the brains of someone else who then has an orange. Is St Vincent unusually, are there an unusual amount of these kinds of stories with this battle.

    Dr John Sugden

    Not an unusual amount. It was a famous battle, probably more famous than it actually deserves to be. But I think you’re dealing with this sort of material in most of the battles of that period, a lot of it comes out a lot. This was a period when books were beginning to be published. And when important figures died, you found these huge monuments being published in their honour. And many of them were based on reminiscences but many of them are also very unreliable. And a lot of these stories come from these sorts of books. And then you get things like the contemporary naval journals, like the Naval Chronicle, which is a huge 40 volumes set covering virtually every aspect of the naval situation between about 1818 and earlier than that. So, you know that there is an awful lot of stuff, but a lot of it is reminiscent and reminiscent stuff is never particularly very trustworthy, as you’ll know.

    Sam Willis

    Yeah, absolutely.

    Dr John Sugden

    People build up the legends as they go along.

    Sam Willis

    And I think it’s dangerous, certainly with St. Vincent, you often, it’s so easy to read into the battle the narratives you’re sort of supposed to read in, once you know about what Nelson did next. It’s quite difficult to put yourself in the shoes of the people who didn’t know what was going to happen with the rest of the war

    Dr John Sugden

    Exactly, yes. We come with the knowledge of hindsight, don’t we? So, we can make criticisms, which just wouldn’t have occurred to people actually on the ground, because they don’t know what’s going to happen. And they don’t exactly know what’s going to be the result of the actions that they’re performing. So, it’s very easy for historians to get very clever about events and take themselves out of the situation, and I think you’ve always got to imagine just what situation these, what circumstances these people are in and try to understand them a little bit; be a bit more generous, perhaps.

    Sam Willis

    That’s nice, nice thought. Let’s put ourselves in Jervis’s shoes. What were his tactics? What was he trying to do when he saw the Spanish on the horizon?

    Dr John Sugden

    Well, one of the things he was very conscious of was the dire state of Britain at that time. He knew that Britain was in dark and dangerous times. It was isolated in its struggle with revolutionary France, it didn’t have any effective allies. Its first time had been wasted by disease capturing sugar islands in the West Indies, its fleet was outnumbered by a combined hostile navy, France, Spain and Holland. And the French, with their superior armed forces, were threatening invasion, they did actually land in Wales and Ireland. And Britain was in an economic crisis with a run on the banks. Now, Jarvis was the sort of man who knew that Britain really needed a victory. He was a brisk for business sea dog; he knew that Britain needed a victory at this time, and he was going to do his damnedest to provide one. I think that was what was mostly going through his mind when he confronted the fleet.

    Sam Willis

    It was very important to try and split up the enemy’s fleet or to take advantage of a pre-existing gap in an enemy’s line of battle. Can you just talk a little bit about that and explain why?

    Dr John Sugden

    Yeah, well, obviously, particularly in this case, because when on that morning of 14th February 1797, when the fog lifted revealing the various sizes of the fleets, Jervis would have been very much impressed by the sheer formidable appearance that the Spanish fleet made. So, it was even more important to try and split and divide it, so that he could concentrate such forces as he had on one division of the Spanish fleet. And that gift was given to him because as the fog lifted, he realised that there was already a gap in the Spanish order, and he really went straight for that. He headed straight for it with the intention of driving a wedge through the Spanish fleet, and then rounding on the larger part of it, and mopping it up with, by concentrating his entire force upon it. So, it was obviously an important situation for him.

    Sam Willis

    When it comes to Nelson wearing out of line, so you’ve got the vanguard of the British fleet tacking, and then Nelson sees what’s going on, he wears out of line, how much initiative did he take? Or how much was his actions, actually, based on pre-existing ideas already shared by Jervis?

    Dr John Sugden

    Well, that’s difficult to say. They did work together quite well, and I’m pretty sure they both knew what they were trying to do (they were both aiming – singing from the same sheet as it were), but you know, there are all sorts of arguments about this. And the evidence is very contradictory about why Nelson played the part that he did. And it depends really (the author’s often take a different stance), it just depends which piece of evidence you believe. I think there are two or three scenarios which are possibly possible. But Nelson was in a rather unusual situation. He was at the rear of the fleet, he was third from the end of the fleet, so he was in the rear guard. And that was a particularly galling place to be on that day because I don’t know whether you’ve described this already, but you will know that the British fleet (if you gave a bird’s eye view of it) was like a distorted U shape with the Spanish and the British van heading northwards, and the rear of the British fleet heading south-southwest in the other direction. And I can imagine that Nelson’s seeing the enemy, looking across to starboard, he was in the in the rear division of English fleet, and I can imagine him looking to starboard and seeing his enemy pass northwards on the opposite tack, must have been one of the most difficult periods of his life because he was committed to heading south-westerly when the whole battle was drifting north-westerly. And it must have been like a red rag to a bull to him, so I don’t think he needed a lot of an incentive. Go for it. You know, Nelson once talked about the happy moment, he said most people, most naval officers never had the good fortune to be in a naval action, a major flee action, so when the opportunity came, you grab it, you grab it with both hands, and I can’t imagine him doing much else on this occasion. So, I think it was understandable.

    Sam Willis

    Very much so. And I suppose one of the things that I think is overlooked is the, when Nelson, he wears and he attacks the Spanish, it’s the mismatch between the size of his ship, and the ones that he captures, which I think is often overlooked, and maybe perhaps too much focus on him using the initiative or demonstrating his leadership skills. I mean, he went into battle against an enormously larger opponent.

    Dr John Sugden

    He did, and several larger opponents, because he actually engaged five or six ships. And these included the Santissima Trinidad, which was the enemy flagship, a 130-gun, four decked warship that was once reckoned to be the biggest warship in the world. He did some great damage to that. And he finally then found himself facing three other ships, all of which were technically superior to his own, except when you consider another factor, which is not just the size of the ship, and even the number of guns it has, but basically, the real power in a ship is the skill and experience of the gunners. And that’s what really Nelson was relying upon. I mean, it’s been estimated, for example, in those three hours that he was engaging the heart of the Spanish fleet, his ship expended nearly 2,800 shot and 146 barrels of gunpowder and was firing a lethal broadside about every four and a half minutes, well, this is going to take some beating by any ship of any size.

    Sam Willis

    Yes, and I suppose the key point is the British know that the Spaniards are poorly manned; they’ve got a good sense of the state Spanish fleet.

    Dr John Sugden

    Yes, and so did the Spaniards; they were very aware of their inadequacies, too. I mean, they knew their ships were ill-supplied; they were not fully manned; they knew their gunnery wasn’t as efficient. They really by this time after many engagements with the British often in single-ship actions, they were beginning to get the message that this was not something that they would really have liked to have done. That’s not to say that the Spanish fleet wasn’t very brave. It was capable. Some of the Spanish officers behaved very gallantly indeed. They just didn’t have the tools and the experience to perform.

    Sam Willis

    Yeah, couldn’t really fight them off. Nelson’s boarding of the two Spanish ships is obviously an interesting moment. But there’s something I discovered recently, I know he was injured during the battle, he gets hit by a block and he gets hit in the stomach, and later on, it produces a hernia, it’s actually he describes it as a fist-sized hernia, so this is not, it’s not a trifling injury, however (that’s exactly the word he uses to describe it – he says it’s trifling), but this happens before he boards! Unbelievable.

    Dr John Sugden

    It is. The whole thing, the whole battle really is a real cocktail of Nelson’s qualities, isn’t it – right from beginning to the end. You’ve got the way he reads a battle as it’s happening, he’s not just watching it, he’s reading it and understanding what’s happening, he’s got the tactical insight to do that. He’s got moral courage to take action on his own hook, whatever anyone else says, and then to defend it afterwards. And here you see him doing the other thing, the great sorts of lead from the front fighting. And it wasn’t his business because commodores and flag officers normally left that to their captains. And Nelson says to Miller, who is his flag captain, stand aside, I’ll take this one. And that’s after he’s, as you say it’s after he’s received this blow. The other thing about the boarding actions is this, although the Spaniards weren’t particularly, they weren’t necessarily experienced greatly in sea battles or gunnery, when you’re actually in a boarding situation, that doesn’t really matter. These people can still handle pikes and swords and pistols. And some of these big Spanish ships had quite a large number of men. So, it was quite a brave decision, I think, for Nelson to do that exercise, boarding first one ship, and then having done that, and having to commit men to hold in that in its place board in another ship from it again, with a quite unknown quantity on the other side. It was incredible bravery, however way you look at it, it was just, it was naval heroism at its best. That I think was one of the great reasons why it became such a legendary episode.

    Sam Willis

    So much focus falls on Nelson, but Collingwood plays an important role in this as well. He’s in command of HMS Excellent. And, you know, reading it again, as I was today it does it foreshadow you know, the relationship between Nelson and Collingwood that you see played out at the Battle of Trafalgar as well.

    Dr John Sugden

    Yes, it does. Isn’t it strange that the two leaders of Trafalgar were both in the rear division of Jervis’ fleet, and could if things had gone wrong, have missed the action completely? Yes, they worked in great unison, those two and remember, they’d had a history together because they’d been in partnership before, going back as young officers, they both fought the navigation laws in the West Indies together. And there were almost the only two significant officers who had done that. So, they came with a history of collaboration and friendship. And Collingwood does play an amazing part in this battle. He gets into it a bit late compared to Nelson, he didn’t have Nelson’s insight, tactical insight and initiative. But when he gets there, he really does his job. And in fact, he brought about the surrender really of two of the Spanish ships, which is equal to Nelson, not perhaps in as dramatic a fashion. You also find him in the battle, actually, passing between Nelson ship at one point and the ships that Nelson was engaging. Partly, of course, to deliver broadsides into Nelson’s opponents, but also one suspects to give Nelson’s ship a respite, a few minutes breather, while he deals with the enemy, and then he passes on, and Nelson resumes the conflict with them. So, they did work really well as a team and that continued to Trafalgar, of course, as you say.

    Sam Willis

    And Collingwood’s one of these people, I think he joined the Navy when he was eight or something, he spent his entire life in the Navy, and finally gets his chance to get stuck in and certainly does so. The fame is interesting, what happens to Nelson and the impact on his private life. Do you think it’s fair to say that Nelson and Fanny, his wife, dreamt of different futures?

    Dr John Sugden

    Yes, I think so. I think she was proud of him. But her response to this battle was leave boarding to captains. She didn’t like him putting himself in danger. Well, it’s understandable, it’s like policeman’s wives today, isn’t it? So, it’s not a difficult idea to recognize. But yes, she didn’t – she obviously was very proud of him – but she didn’t have that talent for exalting in his naval glory in the way that Emma Hamilton did later. I think Fanny would have liked a respectable professional life and then a quiet retirement by the fireside, and a nice family context. She wasn’t an adventurous person, but she was solid and dependable and honourable and in a way, Nelson wanted something more exciting.

    Sam Willis

    Yeah, he certainly got that.

    Dr John Sugden

    He did get it. Perhaps too much.

    Sam Willis

    And it’s a good point. It’s a point I think that needs making a lot with sea power in this period. So the British here have defeated the Spanish- they’ve kind of found them out. They’ve proved to themselves that the Spanish can be defeated. So, at this stage of the war, they beaten the French at the Glorious First of June, they’ve now beaten the Spanish, but in no way does that signal the end of the war. There’s so much more coming, isn’t it? The Dutch are about to change sides. It’s all going to go wrong.

    Dr John Sugden

    The Dutch – the Battle of Camperdown, which came shortly after St Vincent, it was really the other battle at that time which reassured the public at home that yes, we’re still the top naval power, and yet Camperdown is barely mentioned in many of the books. And yet it was quite an impressive little victory. And some people have seen in it the shadows of Trafalgar, which came, of course much later and use some of the same ideas. So yeah, there was a string of victories, but it gets to a point where you’re winning so many times that you assume it’s going to happen. And I think that was the case certainly after Trafalgar, there was a defeatism in the enemy, began to set in after Trafalgar, you get the feeling that all the opposing fleets really don’t want a major battle anymore with the British. So, there is a slight change of tempo at that point. But no, it was well contested and often it’s as much in single-ship actions as in the great battles, that you see some astonishing performances among the captains of, frigate captains, as well as the great captains and admirals who commanded the ships of the line.

    Sam Willis

    I think 1797 is a particularly important year as well. So, you know, here we are focusing on St. Vincent. We’ve mentioned Camperdown These are two great naval victories. But this is it’s the same year of the terrible mutinies at the Nore and at Spithead, so there’s definitely a kind of, at least two significant narratives going on with the Navy, it’s rotten, basically at the core, but it can still produce these results.

    Dr John Sugden

    Yes, that’s right. It is a strange situation. And one that’s quite dramatic. I think the best officers were aware of the difficulties in the lower deck. But you do get your martinets and you do get some very poor commanders, and you see them in every battle, don’t you, commanders who don’t seem to have the drive or the initiative, or even the personalities to command ships properly. They were called rotten ships in the day, weren’t they, because the discipline began to go. But yes, it’s a double face, isn’t it? You know, these great victories and the triumphs and the public image of the jolly tar. And then on the other side of it, the hard life at sea, the severe discipline and sometimes the sheer brutality and cruelty of some of the officers.

    Sam Willis

    And yet, amongst all of this, you have this magnificent victory in 1797. So last question, why does the battle matter?

    Dr John Sugden

    Well, it mattered at the time because as I say, it lifted Britain’s spirits at a time when they were literally on the floor. It certainly mattered there, it also unleashed – it unveiled more naval heroes, didn’t it? St Jervis himself, I mean, he was made an Earl, he became Earl St. Vincent. And he became a massively reassuring figure for the British public. He never really lost his reputation as one of the premier men in the service and somebody who was one of the wooden walls of England. But most of all, of course, there was Nelson; it created the golden boy of the Royal Navy, who ultimately people were really looking upon as the shield of the country. So, it was an amazing victory. And when you look at it, and you look at all the incidents in it, Nelson’s wearing out of line, and acting completely on his own hock, and these dramatic boarding episodes, these were some of the most legendary and dramatic images of the Royal Navy. You could sell them anywhere, couldn’t you? And if you look at a lot of the other battles, a lot of them may have been bigger and more lethal, they don’t turn up any more dramatic images than that of Nelson boarding his two ships from his battered 74. I mean, that was almost a defining image of what the Navy aspired to, it was the ultimate picture of naval heroism and I think it was remembered for that reason. That’s how it appears on all the toby jugs and some of the prints.

    Sam Willis

    Yes, you’re right. Well, thank you so much for talking to me today, John, I really appreciate it.

    Dr John Sugden

    Well, let’s hope something comes out of it and I wish you well with the venture, and you look after yourself as well in these difficult times.

    Sam Willis

    Will do, thank you so much.

    Dr John Sugden

    Okay, Sam.

    Sam Willis

    The second person you will hear from now is the excellent Marianne Czisnik. Marianne trained and practised as a lawyer in Germany before researching aspects of Nelson’s life, image and iconography at the University of Edinburgh. A leading Nelson scholar, she’s published on a wide range of subjects relating to Nelson, including the book ‘Horatio Nelson: A Controversial Hero’ in 2005, and ‘Admiral Nelson’s Tactics at the Battle of Trafalgar’ in ‘History’, in October 2004. She’s also the author of the Navy Records Society’s latest volume, ‘Nelson’s Letters to Lady Hamilton and Related Documents’. If you haven’t heard of the Navy Records Society do, please check them out, they have a great online presence @navyrecords.org.uk. As a historian, Marianne has been particularly adept at revealing how the real man has been obscured, distorted and misunderstood by those for whom the image of Nelson was more important than the reality. And she’s renowned for her fresh approaches to the study of Nelson. Here she is.

    Marianne, St. Vincent really is a fascinating battle. What do you think is the most important themes that come out of it in relation to Nelson?

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    Clearly his independent action regarding veering out of the line to attack, well, at first one Spanish ship, which turned out to be two Spanish ships.

    Sam Willis

    To what extent do you think he was really breaking the rules? Or do you think he was operating within the spirit of them? And that was okay.

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    That’s the big question on which the opinions vary. Apparently, regarding the result, St Vincent, his superior was happy with the outcome as it was a success. But he may also have been happy with it because it coincided with what he really had wanted to be done, but couldn’t get across or convey to his subordinates, because the flag system just didn’t enable him to put his message as clearly as he would have liked to. But this is opposing our ideas on what he may have wanted Nelson, or any of his captains to do, on what he may have really thought. And what is more important than what St. Vincent may have wanted, is what Nelson actually did. And that was fairly independent. There is a suggestion that St. Vincent may have tried to signal exactly that. But the flag signals, which he supposedly sent out, were not received on Nelson’s ship. So, Nelson could have just had a kind of imaginative link to St. Vincent, he couldn’t have received a real message. And he clearly acted independently on his own accord. And that was quite an achievement to have done, not only because it shows that he judged the situation rightly, but also because he challenged what all his fellow captains did, which was just staying in line, which was the straightforward order they had received. And so that’s quite daring and shows a lot of judgment.

    Sam Willis

    Do you think history would have judged it all differently? Well, I’m sure it would have done it had Nelson’s attack failed, do you think he would have got in trouble for doing what he did?

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    That’s difficult to say. And of course, we can’t change history and shouldn’t make too many suggestions about what would have been, but I can’t imagine him having been fitted in any way if he hadn’t succeeded. But luck was in the way, as well, for his success, for the second ship to collide into the first which he had attacked.

    Sam Willis

    I suppose there’s a danger that so many people look back at Nelson’s story and see him as a man who took initiative, who was a natural leader. There is a danger here that we are reading back into the past something that we want to see. Is there really enough evidence that he was as impressive as we believe him to be.

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    Well, whether we think that’s impressive is another matter. But he clearly was independent-minded. And he had shown that before. And he wasn’t very afraid of the consequences. He had even got himself into serious trouble in the West Indies by being independent-minded to put it positively, or quite disobedient to superior’s orders to put it more bluntly. So, there was clearly an independent-mindedness about what he did in crucial circumstances, which were quite a challenge to judge for his fellow officers as well, as we can see at St Vincent because you remember, he was the only one who did it and then was followed, I think, by Collingwood.

    Sam Willis

    Our understanding of what happened at St. Vincent is so clearly coloured by Nelson’s own description of the events. It’s an unusual battle in that respect, isn’t it? Because usually, the most detailed account will come from the commander in chief, but in this account, St. Vincent Jervis. I mean, he barely says anything at all. So, everything we know really comes from Nelson’s own hands. I suppose we should be a bit careful.

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    Oh, no, that’s not quite true. Well, St Vincent did not mention Nelson’s part in the battle, that is true, and he may have had his reasons because other admirals had been in trouble for, with their captains, for having preferred one above the other in their reports. So that’s probably why he stayed neutral. But he clearly acknowledged what Nelson did and appreciated him, which is very much shown in what he did for him after the Battle of Cape St Vincent. So, he really acknowledged what he had done. So, it wasn’t only Nelson himself. And there was also I think, at least two more reports about Nelson’s actions, one by Colonel Drinkwater, which I think, who I think was on board, Nelson ship at the time, and who was an eyewitness of the battle. And another one whose name I’ve just forgotten just escaped me. So, it’s not only Nelson.

    Sam Willis

    Not only Nelson. Okay, that’s an important point. But I suppose what is clear is that the role that Nelson played at Cape St Vincent did contribute massively to him becoming well known and famous. How did that process happen?

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    Well, not straightforwardly. He himself was pretty disappointed at not having been sufficiently acknowledged for what he had done at the time. His own account wasn’t widely read; Colonel Drinkwater’s account, or he called it a narrative was, I think even the copies were even destroyed because they were regarded unsalable – nobody was interested in it. So, the account of the story of the battle wasn’t an immediate, wasn’t of immediate interest to the public. Although Nelson as I now think, very cleverly, tried to make a reference to the Glorious First of June, which had been fought three years earlier, by calling ‘his battle’, if I may say so, so the Battle of Cape St Vincent, ‘the Battle of the Glorious St. Valentine’s Day’. So, he related to the Glorious First of June and wanted to have some glory for himself. But he didn’t succeed immediately. It was rather an indirect effect that some people had somehow noticed his account or Colonel Drink water’s account. First memorabilia appeared. And then when he really became famous, after the Battle of the Nile, of course, they had something to relate back to he wasn’t completely unknown. That was, I think, the greatest effect of his part on the Battle of Cape St Vincent, rather than the battle itself at the time.

    Sam Willis

    How did Nelson’s newfound fame, after the Battle of Cape St Vincent, affect his life – do you think?

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    That is difficult to say; at first, I’m pretty sure he was very disappointed at the lack of acknowledgement that he received by his superior and by the public. But then, it had a major indirect effect on his future career by opening up career paths to him, particularly thanks to St. Vincent. It was entirely due to St. Vincent that he got the command of the Mediterranean Squadron in 1798, so just a year after he’d lost his arm, a bit more about a year after the Battle of Cape St Vincent, that I think wouldn’t have happened, I’m sure wouldn’t have happened, without St. Vincent. And St. Vincent clearly knew what he had in Nelson, thanks to the Battle of Cape St Vincent, in part at least.

    Sam Willis

    So, he’s acquired himself a very powerful patron, who then goes on to influence his career.

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    Puts it very precisely, that’s it a patron, he gained a patron.

    Sam Willis

    What does this incident tell us about Nelson’s character, do you think?

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    He was a very active and driven person; he wasn’t waiting for things to happen; he wanted to have an impact on what was going on.

    Sam Willis

    And wanted to take control of that process as well. It’s interesting the way that things happen, but then he is so conscious of, like a historian, he’s conscious of the story of what he’s done, isn’t he.

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    We must be careful not to single him out more than he would have singled himself out himself. He very much acknowledged his subordinate’s contribution to his successes, he always did that, and also, in the case of the Battle of Cape St Vincent. So, he was aware that it wasn’t only him, who did all these things and achieved the successes, he took the decisive decisions, but in order to execute them, he was very much dependent on other people. And he acknowledged the support he received.

    Sam Willis

    What about the competition from other captains of his experience or age group? Is it fair to see him as someone who’s deliberately clambering on top of other people to rise to the top or do you think he was a very open and friendly person? I mean, was he a kind of a political animal or not?

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    I don’t know whether political animal is the right term? He clearly wanted to climb. I don’t think his major aim was to put others down. I wouldn’t dare to claim that. I don’t think he wanted to do it at the cost of others, because he acknowledged them too often, too frequently, in different circumstances. But he didn’t mind being ahead of them.

    Sam Willis

    Didn’t mind at all. I think it’s probably fair to say! How important is it to see the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, within the context of other battles that are happening in the 1790s, do you think?

    Dr Marianne Czisnik

    I think it’s very important. Looking back, we see the Battle of the Nile first, but there were more events, particularly the Battle of the Glorious First of June, which was much more celebrated than the Battle of Cape St Vincent. So, St. Vincent stands out for us, perhaps because Nelson fought in it so successfully. But at the time, it was not so much celebrated as the Battle of the Glorious First of June. So, we have to consider that there were others, other admirals and other battles, that were celebrated.

    Sam Willis

    An important point to end with. Thank you very much indeed for talking to us today, Marianne.

    Well, I do hope you have enjoyed this episode ‘An Analysis of the Battle of Cape St Vincent’. But let me remind you to listen to our first episode, which outlines what happened in the battle, and also to our subsequent episode, which is coming up because that offers an important Spanish perspective of the battle. How can you help well, please do follow us on social media, on Twitter, on Facebook on Instagram, please leave a review on the iTunes website that’s really important, makes a huge difference. And otherwise, please just sign up to the Society for Nautical Research. If you are not already a member, you can do so @snr.org.uk and your subscription fee will go towards publishing the most important maritime history and to preserving our maritime past.

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