Collingwood in the Mediterranean

For more than four years after the death of Nelson, Admiral Collingwood held naval command from the southern tip of Portugal to the Dardanelles. Piers Mackay writes how, in that time, Collingwood became the prime and sole Minister of England, acting upon the sea.

As the British fleet steered for the enemy on the morning of Trafalgar, a signal broke and fluttered in the Victory, leading the weather line. On board the Royal Sovereign, at the head of the lee column, it was seen by the Second-in-Command of the fleet, Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. “I wish Nelson would stop signalling,” he said. “We all know what we have to do.” Nelson’s last signal was then read and brought to him: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” The phrase struck a chord in Collingwood’s heart, and he made the message known to the ship’s company.

The anecdote illustrates the contrasting temperaments of Nelson and his successor: Nelson imaginative, passionate and mercurial; Collingwood steadfast, grave and businesslike. They were equal in their enthusiasm for war and their determination to engage. The Royal Sovereign was the first ship into action at Trafalgar, and she fought alone for fifteen or twenty minutes before her consorts began to come up.

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