Ferrol, Galicia, has been linked to the sea for its entire history. The remnants of the Spanish Armada took shelter here and it remains the major Spanish naval base on the Atlantic coast.
Ferrol, of course, is also well known to fans of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels. The fortress at Ferrol, in the foreground, is where Midshipman Hornblower was imprisoned for two years and where, despite his lack of an ear for pronunciation, he learned Spanish that aided him in later adventures.
Most readers of naval fiction of the Age of Sail are fairly familiar with the broad outlines of the Napoleonic Wars. In reality, Britain had been at war with Revolutionary France for nearly seven years when the 18 Brumaire Coup brought Napoleon to power.
As we’ve noted before, one of the advantages of writing fiction set during the Age of Sail is that the real events are often so much more exciting than any mere novelist could conceive of.
Take for instance the case of HMS The Fort Diamond (pictured above), probably the only geographical feature to ever be classified as a warship, which directly (in the case of Dudley Pope’s Lord Ramage novel, Ramage’s Diamond) and indirectly (C. S. Forrester’s Horatio Hornblower novel Lieutenant Hornblower) makes an appearance in nautical fiction.
The real story is more amazing.
Spithead was the great anchorage of the Royal Navy located adjacent to the port city of Portsmouth. Spithead continues to be the scene of naval reviews such as Trafalgar 200 International Fleet Review. This image provides a view of Spithead to the right foreground an is oriented up The Solent towards Southampton.
Spithead provided a very sheltered anchorage, heavily defended by land fortifications, that had the advantage of allowing ships to exit under most wind conditions.
Spithead was also the site of one of the two great mutinies of the Royal Navy in 1797, unlike the later one at the Nore, the Spithead mutiny was settled peacefully and resulted in substantial reforms in the Royal Navy.
For fans of C. S. Forester and Horatio Hornblower, Spithead is where Midshipman Hornblower began his naval career on the HMS Justinian and became famed as the midshipman who was seasick at Spithead.
If you are interested in what Portsmouth, Spithead, and The Solent look like from a glider be sure to drop by this site.
The Age of Sail produced some interesting characters and exceptional leaders. Sometimes they are all rolled into one, as in the case of Lord Cochrane.
What makes the British Navy notable, in my view anyway, is the degree to which it was a meritocracy operating within an aristocratic society. While it is true that those with connections did benefit from their social status it was equally true that advancement in the Royal Navy was open to men of modest birth but exceptional ability. One such is Sir Edward Pellew Continue reading
Wikipedia has a very in depth biography of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower but the entries for Dudley Pope’s Nicholas Ramage, Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho, and Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie are much less developed.
I took an initial cut at improving the Lewrie entry today and will continue. Help is always appreciated.