How England Learned of the Battle of Trafalgar

On October 21, 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was fought between the English Navy and the combined fleets of France and Spain.

The Battle of Trafalgar, by George Clarkson Stanfield.

England’s chances for victory were slim. The British force had twenty-seven ships; the enemy had thirty-three.

But England’s secret weapon was the gallant Lord Nelson, commander of the fleet.

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronte.

The engagement lasted four hours, and in the end, twenty Spanish and French ships were sunk or destroyed, the French commander-in-chief was captured, and two Spanish admirals were taken prisoners by the English.

It was a decisive victory, but it came at a cost. Nelson was wounded midway through the action and died nearly at its close.

The Evening after Trafalgar, by Claude Thomas Stanfield Moore.

But the victory forever removed any threat that Napoleon Bonaparte might invade England.

So if the battle was waged and won on October 21, why am I telling you about it on November 6?

Because November 6 is the day news of the victory finally reached England.

In our modern world of instant newsfeeds and alerts it’s sometimes easy to lose perspective about the speed with which information traveled during Jane Austen’s time. News traveled slowly, and, in this case, Mother Nature added to the fifteen-day delay.

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought and won on October 21. No sooner was victory assured, than “a gale of wind” blew in. The storm that followed was of such ferocity, the fleet had no choice but to hunker down. They were so busy ensuring the safety of their own and captured ships, they had no chance to send word to England, or even count their casualties.

The storm lasted five days. Finally, on October 26, the British commander despatched a ship to England. On board, Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotiere carried written reports of the battle.

A miniature, believed to be of John Richards Lapenotiere

Nine days later, Lapenotiere arrived at the harbor at Falmouth. From there he traveled overland to London by “express in a post chaise and four.”

He covered the distance of 271 miles in 38 hours, making 21 stops to change horses.

A fast-traveling post-chaise and four upsets a gig.

His overland journey was well documented, and today, there are plaques along route—now known as The Trafalgar Way—that commemorate Lapenotiere’s journey, as well as the men from each location who fought in that decisive battle.

One of the Trafalgar Plaques, this one in Salisbury.

On November 6, Lapenotiere finally delivered reports of England’s victory into the hands of the Admiralty and the King.

That very day, newspapers printed the story. Click here to read one of those newspaper stories.

And if you’re interested, Wikepedia has an interesting page about The Trafalgar Way that documents the distance, horse-changes, and cost of Lapenotiere’s travels.

I love reading all the details about Lapenotiere’s journey. It’s a reminder to me to be mindful of the limitations of Regency-era travel when I write my own stories set during that time period.

It’s also a fascinating true-life story of heroic men who always kept duty to country uppermost in mind, and risked all to serve their country and its citizens. I applaud them.

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