In honour I gained them, and in honour I will die with them.
In the third week of October, 1805, the western littoral of Spain reverberated to the thunder of cannon. Skeins of smoke were tossed by offshore wind. Every so often the radiant blast of an exploding ship was seen by those searching the horizon from the clifftops. Beneath leaden skies, the sea was full of what looked like blazing matchwood, broken hulls and masts collapsing into the maelstrom amid screams of panic.
As the action lost momentum and resolved into a scene of forlorn wreckage, the wind gave way to an angry gale that continued to lash the Atlantic coast of Spain for a week.
On November 6th, 1805, Admiral Collingwood's account of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of his colleague, Horatio Nelson, by a cannonball in the chest, reached England. The British assault had been a herculean success and had broken the back of the Franco-Spanish Navy for good. Napoleon might be gaining ground in Austria, but his Navy could not hope to rally sufficiently to scale the 'wooden walls' of England.
At Kew, the King shed a tear at Nelson's heroic bravery, along with many others'.
“At least,” he said to Pitt, “he is gone out in a blaze of glory. Eh? No greater sacrifice. This calls for a State funeral, nothing less. Make ready, sir.”
“As Your Majesty proposes,” responded Pitt. “Shall the ceremony be in St Paul's?”
“Wren's monument to almighty God. Ah yes! Anthems to make the rafters ring!”
“Your Majesty's government would concur in that, have no doubt, sir.”
“We've given those Gauls a trouncing at last! What! A cue for rejoicing!”
“It will certainly raise morale against Bonaparte. But we shall not be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, I trust, save Europe by her example.”
It was late afternoon and dark. The room had the sombre glow of a Rubens domestic tableau, lit by a prudent posting of candles. The king was sporting a green shade over his eyes and was looking down at the carpet, as if trying to read sound. His eyesight was lately failing which had the effect of honing his perception.
“Come closer,” he beckoned. “Your voice is not as sure as it was wont.”
“I beg your pardon, sir. Collingwood's despatches arrived in the small hours. It has long been my habit at such times to place my head upon the pillow and sleep again. But in this instance, I could not, and I rose at three. There is so much to weep and rejoice over at once.”
“Indeed. Indeed. But you must take care of your health, Pitt. You have acquired a frailty of tone which speaks of a fatigued constitution.”
Pitt dared to glance at the clock and hoped the King would draw matters to a close. There was much to be done. He must oust his prepared speech and write a new one for the annual Lord Mayor's Banquet at the Guildhall on Saturday night. Sharp, fiery pains tore at his stomach. He needed his palliative white medicine as soon as he could lay his hands upon the bottle.
Excerpted from THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS, Second Book in the Berkeley Series