Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Nelson's Honours part 1: Knight Companion of the British Order of the Bath

Last year, on the approach to Trafalgar Day, I posted some extracts from Nelson's final diary.  So this year I've decided to write about the honours he collected during his lifetime.  Replicas of the stars can be seen stitched onto his Trafalgar coat at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, as well as on the realistic waxwork of him at Westminster Abbey, where a replica chelengk can also be seen on his hat.  It's fairly safe to say that Nelson did enjoy a bit of bling, but to be fair, they were granted to so very few people that it's hardly surprising he felt so grateful and honoured that his services had been recognised in such a way, that he wanted to wear them all the time.

Nelson was awarded the Order of the Bath on the 27th May 1797, after the Battle of Cape St Vincent.  He knew that he would likely be awarded a baronetcy, but Nelson was concerned because it was a hereditary honour that would pass to his heirs, and he didn't possess a great fortune to pass along with it.  For that reason (and also because he craved public recognition, which the bright red sash and shiny star would certainly bring), he requested an honour which would 'die with the possessor', and so he was granted a Knighthood of the Order of the Bath.  

The name of the Order of the Bath originates from medieval times, when the ritual conferring a knighthood required the person to cleanse themselves by fasting, praying and washing.  Over time, however, the rituals gradually fell into disuse.  The Order was revived by George I in 1725, as an elite knighthood comprised of the Sovereign, the Great Master, and 36 Knights Companion, and was awarded to officers of the armed services who deserved special recognition.

Fun fact: The motto of the Order of the Bath is 'Tria Juncta in Uno' which means 'Three Joined in One'.  Nelson, Emma and William Hamilton (who was also a knight of the Order of the Bath) used that motto as an in-joke to refer to their arrangement when they were all living together quite happily.  It also featured on Nelson's own coat of arms.


  1. This is very interesting article and you have given a lot of information on here. I think that waxwork of Horatio Nelson which is on show is displayed in Westminster Abbey. I need to find out when i go there.

  2. Yes it's in the museum there which is a bit separate from the main building. If you just wanted to see that and not go round the rest of Abbey, you can actually get in to the museum for free. Just go to the Abbey exit (near the gift shop) and ask there and they'll show you where to go. At least, they did for me when I went a few months ago.