Home > Epic Big Ones, Poetry > Trafalgar (Where England Expects..)

Trafalgar (Where England Expects..)

KEY: English Officer – English Ship. French/Spanish Officer – French/Spanish Ship



The Franco-Spanish fleet blockaded at Cádiz,
On September Sixteenth, Eighteen-ought-Five,
Heard orders from Napoleon for the moment to seize:
“Set sail for Naples and conquest there  contrive!”

But Admiral Villeneuve, the leader of the fleet,
Gathered his captains to a war council,
Where troubled by visions of  previous defeat
Cohesion and obedience stayed somewhat doubtful.

The council sat on the flagship Bucentaure,
And although there was dissension, Villeneuve held sway
As the orders from his Emperor he chose to ignore
And, anchored in Cádiz, the fleet would stay.

But on October Eighteenth he changed his mind
And ordered the fleet to sail
For Rosily, now his successor, was with new orders signed,
En route from Madrid, his command to curtail.

Not wishing the prospect of ignominy and shame
Anchors were weighed and the fleet put to sea;
With the English docked at Gibraltar he could claim
This as reason for his new found urgency.

Villeneuves’ haste overlooked the weather,
As a sudden calm slowed their egress,
And plans of formation couldn’t bring together
A strewn out fleet and disorganized progress.

By evening of the Twentieth, three columns were set,
And for Gibraltar they steered to the southeast;
Until Achille sighted a pursuing English threat,
So single line was ordered and battle readiness increased.

At dawn the English closed from the northwest
And Villeneuve ordered three columns once more,
But again changed his mind to what he thought best,
To single line return and integrity restore.

This caused without doubt many a mariner to frown,
Its consequence being felt throughout the day,
And at Eight o’clock with the English bearing down,
“Wear together, and to Cádiz!” the Admiral was heard to say.

With the fleet drawn out in an uneven crescent,
The stage was set, and the dice were cast,
The English war cries echo to the present,
The Cape of Trafalgar on the horizon at last!


Flying high on the Victory’s mizzen mast
Was Nelson’s signal – a message of patriotic beauty,
A fluttering inspiration to the fleet amassed,
“England expects every man will do his duty!”

By Eleven Forty-Five the fleets were arranged;
Nelson’s unorthodox twin parallel columns,
Converged midpoint with the enemy and exchanged
Murderous cannonades of deathly gunpowder blossoms.

Collingwoods’ Royal Sovereign led the column at the south,
Full sailed and sleek, she was first to the affray,
And at Villeneuves’ command from Fougeuexs cannons mouth,
The Sovereign took receipt of the first shots of the day.

San Justo, San Leandro and Indomptable too
Spat their hate at the Sovereign’s prow.
Bloodied but unhindered she fought on through,
To astern the Santa Ana raking a broadside to her bow.

Behind the Royal Sovereign came the brave Belleisle,
By L’Aigle, Achille, and Neptune she was engaged,
Until, dismasted and drifting, she was no longer hostile,
Splintered by the barrage, which against her had raged.

To the north Victory, too, came under intense fire,
Héros, Sanitisma Trinidad and Redoubtable had her outgunned!
Forty minutes she endured, her silent guns could only aspire
To respond with vehemence, to see their enemy shunned.

With many crew dead or maimed, and her wheel shot away,
The Victory still steered from the tiller below decks.
Then she breaks through! Victory breaches the line in disarray;
Between Bucentaure and Redoubtable she cuts, and havoc she wreaks!

At Twelve Forty-Five, to Bucentaures’ stern she nears,
And a full volleyed broadside decimates the Frenchmen.
Eagle aloft, ready to tranship, to combat his boarding fears
Villeneuve readies his crew, to repel the Englishmen.

Victorys’ impetus carried her past and into a general melee,
Leaving Bucentaure to the wrath of Conqueror and Neptune.
When Redoubtable and Victory collide and locked masts with dismay,
The French infantry crew prepared to board the Victory soon.

French muskets and grenades dealt death and despair.
Then alas! Nelson is shot and to the deck is laid,
And through smoke from the starboard stormed the Temeraire
And annihilated the boarding party with a vengeful carronade.


The bullet hit Lord Nelson in his left shoulder.
Passed through his lung and severed his spine;
Famous words he uttered, injured supine, increasingly colder,
“They finally succeeded, I am dead!” was one doom-laden line.

Still clinging to life, below decks he was carried,
Where Ships Surgeon William Beatty tended his need,
As about, in the maelstrom, his fleet fought and harried
The French and Spanish, through England’s greatest naval deed.

At Five before Two, Lucas of Redoubtable offered surrender,
Wounded himself, and over five hundred of his crew dead or unfit,
His once proud ship now no more than driftwood contender
To the Britannic onslaught  he was forced to submit.

Bucentaure’s fate was the next to be sealed,
Subdued by Victory and Temeraire and then, blown asunder,
By Neptune and Leviathon made to yield,
Like Trinidad, beaten, by three hours of Conqueror’s cannon thunder!

More and more English sallied forth to the action,
A smoky pall of gunpowder death hung heavy in salty air,
As Mars, desailed and uncontrollable, sought opposing faction,
Till Captain Duff was decapitated by shot from Plutons’ cannon’s stare.

Hitherto quiescent, the allied vanguard finally awoke
And tacked back to attack the rampaging English foe,
But Dumanoir’s late gesture, of desperation spoke,
And Formidables’ futile fusillade was all he had to show.

Of the vanguard, only Neptuno and Intrepide came to Villeneuve’s aid
Others struck their colours and one by one they sailed away
The allied fleet, for their inadequacy, dearly paid:
Thousands dead and 22 ships lost, on that bloody day.

Among French ships captured were Berwick, Intrepide and Swiftsure,
With Bahama, Monarca and San Augustin a few Spanish prizes.
Achille exploded, Redoubtable sank and Argonauta was scuttled to the seafloor
As Nelson, pyrrhic in victory to death surrenders, a legendary hero arises.

“Thank God I have done my duty” Beatty had heard him say
Then Chaplain Scott, who stayed at his side, heard him murmur more;
“God and my Country” as death claimed him and took his life away
Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, at Four Thirty, breathed no more.

They preserved his body in a barrel of rum for the voyage back
To Gibraltar first they set, to Rosia Bay for repair
Then to England, and a hero’s funeral draped by Union Jack
And immortality in stone atop his column, in Trafalgar Square.


  1. lairdglencairn
    January 29, 2011 at 11:10

    Enjoyed this very much – makes easier reading than my history textbook !!

  2. Scent of my heart
    January 29, 2011 at 15:09

    That was rather long, but I must say I read it at once and enjoyed it. Very creative style you’ve got! The Aftermath part I liked the best!

  3. August 8, 2011 at 16:47

    Quite amazing that you could tell this tale in rhyme–good rhyme, by the way. Very impressive and extremely well done.

  4. August 9, 2011 at 18:06

    superb job…


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