When Britain Was Great
Martin Walker on Britain's high point
The Pursuit of Victory:
The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson.
By Roger Knight.
Basic Books. 874 pp. $35
The Decline of Britain in the World.
By A. N. Wilson.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 609 pp. $32.50
Twenty years after America’s successful struggle for independence toppled the initial British Empire, its successor was established through three brilliant naval victories won by Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758–1805). The first came in 1797, at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, off the coast of Portugal, when Nelson departed from traditionally rigid battle tactics to break the Spanish line and allow his commander, Admiral John Jervis, to crush Spain’s fleet. The second came the following year, when Nelson’s well-trained squadron of 14 ships caught the French fleet at anchor in Aboukir Bay, off the Egyptian coast, and captured or destroyed 11 of the French ships of the line. As a result of these two battles and the subsequent defeat of the French army left marooned in Egypt, Britain assumed control of the Mediterranean Sea, and thus of the route to India, and held it for another 150 years.
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Martin Walker is the editor of United Press International. His most recent books are America Reborn: A Twentieth-Century Narrative in Twenty-Six Lives (2000) and the novel The Caves of Périgord (2002).more from this author >>