Bryan Hemming

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Was Admiral Lord Nelson gay?


The question of Admiral Lord Nelson’s sexual orientation has puzzled leading historians for many years. Though little evidence has ever been produced, the theory that he was raving queen has never been disproved.

As Lord Horatio Nelson lay dying on the decks of HMS Victory his last words to Captain Thomas Hardy were, “Kiss me Hardy”. The implications of the three words sent ripples round the world that finally washed right up the steps of Admiralty House. The ruffled wigs and stormy waves caused can still be felt today.

Though there might’ve been unfounded rumours floating about of romantic flings with Nell Gwynn, Lady Hamilton, and Ann Hathaway, an expert – who wishes to remain anonymous – believes, as a carefree, gay, young cabin boy, Nelson would’ve  had plenty of opportunity to engage in relationships of a more Socratic nature. Certainly, Thomas Hardy was probably a good looking chap, as many a sailor’s roving eye could’ve attested, had they survived to this day. And probably grew more attractive by the day with the passing months at sea, deprived of female company. A fact that might not have escaped Nelson’s good eye. In the famous novels Hardy wrote later, he never once mentioned Nelson. We can assume it may have been in an effort to forget any goings on below decks he might have felt ashamed of. Or maybe not. Yet it would be remiss of me to choose not to raise the possibility.

Nevertheless, in the absence of eyewitness accounts, as to where the admiral’s sexual proclivities lay, his true fancies have remained a subject of conjecture for more than two hundred years for some, if not the majority. All that is set to change. Dramatic new indications have surfaced, which might paint a quite different picture to the manly, pipe-smoking figure we all imagine him to have been. The drinking tankards of ale down at the docks could have just been a cover to hide the real one-armed man behind the eyepatch.

My attempts to uncover the truth, have not always been welcome, the mere suggestion being greeted with a punch on the nose in some pubs. Despite this open hostility, I  have attempted to cut to the chase and unearth the real true facts as far as possible. Due to no actual references to his sex life, after hours of painstaking work – mainly checking the laws regarding libel – I have managed to fill the gaps with fascinating theories. Most of which would be impossible to challenge in a court of law, seeing as couple of centuries have elapsed, and eyewitnesses are no longer available to testify.

Though Mrs Nelson never uttered a word about her husband being gay, it is an historical fact that she never denied it. We can only suppose that she might have had good reason. Neither are there any other contemporary written accounts denying he was  gay. More tellingly, not one historian has ever been able to produce a verifiable, written record of Nelson denying he was gay. The evidence mounts.

“Any port in a storm” the old saying goes. We all know Jolly Jack Tars have never been too fussy about ‘boarding handsome frigates by the stern’ in foreign backwaters, and we can just as easily assume Nelson was no different, as assume he was. If the admiral was gay, he could’ve been a regular in some of the gay bars in Marrakech that might’ve existed, just before he won the historic Battle of Trafalgar. Furthemore, without hard evidence suggesting otherwise, it can be supposed he might have even disguised himself in woman’s clothes to avoid being recognised. That could be the reason that no firm sightings of him visiting gay bars were recorded at the time.

But just because there weren’t, we can’t assume he wasn’t gay. Back in those days when coming out wasn’t in, gay men kept in the closet. Nelson could easily have been afraid to reveal that he was gay – if he was – because he might have been demoted and the Battle of Trafalgar would’ve been lost by a much less able, heterosexual admiral. Nothing can be ruled out. It must not be forgotten he allowed himself to be painted wearing a powdered wig and very tight trousers on numerous occasions.

Another thing we have to bear in mind is that even if he had been spotted cruising gay haunts, or cottaging the public toilets of Morocco, looking for rent boys, witnesses would’ve kept mum for fear of being asked what they were doing there in the first place.

Contemporary first-hand accounts of Nelson’s sex life appear to be missing for some strange reason, and could have been removed from official documents in an attempt at a cover-up. There is no reference to what he did in his hammock. We don’t even know if he always slept in it alone. What little we do know has been painstakingly pieced together by careful deduction. Assuming that he had a healthy sexual appetite, he could have been on the lookout for partners at sea. Long voyages with all-male crews would’ve narrowed his field of choice considerably. Till the day he died, Nelson’s first mate on the Victory never admitted to any physical contact between the two men beyond the call of duty. Neither did he make any mention of ‘camping it up’ on board. That, and whatever else might have gone on, went to the grave with him.

The fact that questions were never raised in British parliament about Nelson’s sexual orientation reveals more about the prevailing moral attitude at the time than it does about what happened below decks. From the evidence that has survived it becomes increasingly difficult to discount the possibility completely. Unless hard evidence is produced, denying Nelson was gay, suspicions will always remain.

It is an indisputable fact that many top generals and admirals have never admitted to being gay. If Field Marshall Rommel was gay he kept it a close secret, as did General Eisenhower. If he was gay. Adolf Hitler never mentioned a word about being gay, so even if he was, we might never know. Perhaps, not entirely coincidentally, neither did Winston Churchill. Yet it is undeniable both men spent a lot of time with other men of the same sex in underground bunkers. We can only speculate what that might have entailed.

In the same way your parents thinking you’re gay when you’re twelve doesn’t always mean you are, just because someone doesn’t admit to being gay it doesn’t mean that they’re not. If Nelson’s parents thought he was gay at they age of twelve we will probably never know. As my in-depth research revealed far more questions than answers, I leave my readers to make up their own minds.

Olaf Mosely

Olaf Mosely is an occasional guest writer at this blog. His writings do not reflect the views of the publisher.

Copyright © 2013 Bryan Hemming

5 comments on “Was Admiral Lord Nelson gay?

  1. Ritika Upadhyay
    September 14, 2013

    Sensationalist indeed, Bryan.
    Is that him turning in his grave that I hear? :P


  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    September 15, 2013

    Don’t know what your friend is talking about – your stories are heaps interesting, Bryan.

    But anyway, with this Nelson thing – I had no idea that was his last words. It’s extraordinary (to my view) that the last words were even repeated. Thought they’d be kept close to the heart and not revealed. Hurly burly.

    “of a more Socratic nature” – ha ha :) “boarding handsome frigates by the stern” – omg you should write erotica!!

    Oh Bryan, I can’t make up my mind – not by the end. I’m too amused and kicking myself for being naiive… but you could be right.

    Hope your friend read this :) !


    • Bryan Hemming
      September 15, 2013

      Very glad you brought this up.

      As for the friend, he’s just an imaginary friend I use as a literary device from time to time in pieces of whimsy like this, though I do have at least one friend who sometimes says such things when he’s drunk.

      By using humour, I’m trying to expose how modern journalists and historians try to suggest things about famous figures – living or dead – based on not the slightest bit of evidence, just to sell themselves and their books or articles.

      A lot of people are extremely homophobic still, hence if public figures don’t deny they are gay it is sometimes used by unscrupulous writers to suggest they are gay, and if the gutter press publish a story where someone does deny being gay, it is often slanted to make it sound as if the denial is trying to hide the fact the person is gay. A no-win situation for the people involved.

      For most decently-minded people it doesn’t really matter whether a person is gay or not. Yet there are many public figures, particularly in politics, who deny they are gay even when caught out. This is both an insult to their voters and the gay community as a whole.

      I believe Nelson’s last words actually were supposed to have been: “Thank God I have done my duty”.

      But for more on this click here:,-Hardy-or-Kismet,-Hardy?&id=165296


  3. Chris Douglas
    April 3, 2014

    I looked up this question of Nelson’s sexual orientation after finding this report from Wellington:

    “In September 1805, the then Major-General Wellesley, newly returned from his campaigns in India and not yet particularly well-known to the public, reported to the office of the Secretary for War to request a new assignment. In the waiting room, he met Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, already a legendary figure after his victories at the Nile and Copenhagen, and who was briefly in England after months chasing the French Toulon fleet to the West Indies and back. Some 30 years later, Wellington recalled a conversation that Nelson began with him which Wellesley found “almost all on his side in a style so vain and silly as to surprise and almost disgust me”.[198] Nelson left the room to inquire who the young general was and on his return switched to a very different tone, discussing the war, the state of the colonies and the geopolitical situation as between equals.[199] On this second discussion Wellington recalled, “I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more”.[200] This was the only time that the two men met; Nelson was killed at his great victory at Trafalgar just seven weeks later.”

    Being gay myself, this read to me as if Nelson had in effect cruised the young Wellington as a potential conquest, and then returned in a more serious mode when he learned Wellington was to be taken seriously as a military peer, and was in any case trying to play Wellington however he might.


    • Bryan Hemming
      April 4, 2014

      That’s incredibly interesting. Of course, I have no idea whether Nelson was gay or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me. He wouldn’t be the first historic military figure to have been gay, as Alexander the Great certainly was.

      But then, depending on when and where you lived, gayness has been thought of differently throughout history. It was definitely part of Spartan culture, in which it was the norm for warriors to take on young male recruits as lovers. But records are ambiguous regarding homosexuality in Ancient Greece, with many historians ignoring the subject.

      Of course, there have always been gays, and Plato is said to have been gay. But as with much of the world today, homophobia abounded, and gayness was not regarded as an acceptable social norm amongst most Greeks, according to what I have read. But even though pictorial evidence begs to differ, with many ancient Greek pots decorated with same sex lovers, it would seem, as in Nelson’s day, what went on below deck generally stayed below deck. The problem with history is that most historians reflect the prejudices of their own times, often from fear of public, or even official, reaction. This makes it incredibly difficult for the layman to form a realistic picture, as it has to be based on contradictory evidence and opinion.

      Although my article was meant to be a spoof on the hypocrisy of the gutter press and its obsession with the sexual orientation of people in the public eye, there is an element of truth behind the assumption of what occurs during life at sea. We only have to look at examples of institutions where same sex people are confined together for long periods, such as prisons, to see sexuality is often far more complicated than most people realise, and putting people in boxes serves no useful purpose whatsoever, except for those who desire to exploit certain groups of individuals for political, religious, or financial gain.

      Thanks for your comment, apart from the historical significance, it certainly made me smile to think of Nelson attempting to seduce Wellington.


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