Retrospective: Trafalgar

We keep talking about the number of anniversaries in 2015, so perhaps we can squeeze in one more. The 210th anniversary of Trafalgar will fall on 21st October 2015, highlighting that it took a decade after this famous sea battle for Napoleon to be defeated on land at Waterloo.

In September 2001, we were travelling through Spain, a trip that we remember vividly because of the terrible events in New York on the 11th, which we barely understood as it was difficult to get hold of news. A few days later, we reached Gibraltar and visited the Trafalgar cemetery. We were then anxious for the holiday to finish, as we wanted to find out what books were available on Trafalgar and if it was a viable subject for us to tackle for our next book. As it happened, we both embarked on different projects, and it was Roy who wrote the Trafalgar book. Since then, we have resumed writing our books as joint authors.

Trafalgar book jackets

Like all our books, it was not written for a specialist reader who wanted a blow-by-blow account of every single ship’s manoeuvres. Instead, it deals with the build-up to Trafalgar, the battle itself, the subsequent hurricane and the aftermath of the war, with an emphasis on the experiences of the men, women and children.

After Waterloo, many seamen and soldiers were out of work, and the final page of Trafalgar has a poem that describes one seamen who has been reduced to begging:

‘At Trafalgar, I play’d a Briton’s part;
Strength in my limbs, and courage in my heart:
But now a-drift, distress has brought me low,
As this poor wasted form will plainly shew.
I little thought, the day great Nelson fell,
That I should live so sad a tale to tell’

The soldiers of Waterloo fared no better, and yet anyone researching their family history today finds it quite a thrill to find that they have Trafalgar and Waterloo ancestors. The book is available as a paperback published by Abacus, called Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle. In the United States, it is published by Penguin and is called Nelson’s Trafalgar. Both publishers have also produced e-books, and there are also foreign language editions. See also our website page on Trafalgar. The many reviews for this book have included:

‘Narratively compelling, factually forensic and as visceral as Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad’ (George Byrne, Evening Herald)

‘Roy Adkins’ new account of how the threat [of invasion of Britain] was averted is … the latest in the line of gory narratives ruled by Antony Beevor’s work. The blazing Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle is at least the equal of Stalingrad in blood, pace and telling detail, but it also boasts a welcome twist to the genre with a lacing of black humour’ (Nicholas Fearn, Independent on Sunday)