Trafalgar: Countdown to Battle, 1803-1805

Written by Alan Schom
Category: · History

“[A] riveting narrative…Lively, dramatic.” – Kirkus Reviews

The Battle of Trafalgar is well-known for the magnanimous nature of the British victory, even though it cost the nation its greatest hero Lord Admiral, Horatio Nelson. For this reason, the battle itself has been remembered as a momentary success, the resulted only from a stroke of immediate genius or from a brief plan.

But as Alan Schom shows, the Battle of 21 October 1805, a meeting of the might of the British and French navies, was the result of a strategy laid out by the British Admiralty two years earlier, in 1803.

The period from that year until the Battle of Trafalgar was known as ‘the Great Terror’, when British naval forces were on constant alert for attacks by the Frenchman. Various political figures are written about, debating manoeuvres and quota of ships to be constructed, and putting down mutinies.

Exploring previously unexplored archives of both England and France, Schom places Trafalgar in the context of the era. He draws portraits of the key personnel on both sides, such as Dumouriez, Decrès, Talleyrand, Berthier, Pitt, Cornwallis and Castlereagh.

There is also a comprehensive discussion of the growth of the French naval fleet, helped by Dutch ships, and the preparations to build ports, which were hampered by their extraordinary costs and inclement weather.

There are detailed descriptions of the fleets meeting during the run-in to Trafalgar, and Schom is engaging and sometimes humorous in his commentary on events. He also debunks several myths which should put an end to certain debates pertaining to a great battle of modern history.

Praise for Alan Schom:

“Fresh and ever interesting…Triumphantly justifies adding to an already crowded bookshelf…The style is vigorous, the narrative packed with facts but relieved with excellently chosen quotations and off-beat insights.” – The Sunday Times

“Deftly drawn biographies bring to life the principal actors in the great drama…A thoroughly researched and splendidly written book.” – The Los Angeles Times Book Review

Alan Schom was a professor of French and European history before retiring to write full-time. He is the author of Emile Zola: A Biography and the forthcoming One Hundred Days: The Road to Waterloo.

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