Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

Was Admiral Lord Nelson gay?

Nelson 2The question of Admiral Lord Nelson’s sexual orientation has puzzled leading historians for many years. Though little evidence has ever been produced, the theory he was a raving queen has never been disproved.

As Lord Nelson lay dying on the decks of HMS Victory his last words to Captain Thomas Hardy are commonly believed to have been: “Kiss me Hardy”. Yet there are world-renowned academics who swear they were: “Kiss me harder.” Others argue they must’ve been: “Kiss me handy.” Perhaps we shall never know. On the other hand, maybe we will.  For literally, on Nelson’s remaining other (left) hand (it will be remembered Britain’s finest sea lord somehow lost his right arm at Tenerife in 1797, and along with it his right hand, which was at one end of it) traces of spittle could be found and analysed for Hardy’s DNA using all the latest scientific, up-to-the-minute technology. Of course, his corpse would have to be dug up first. Whatever the answer, we do know the implications of those three little words were earth-shattering, sending ripples round the globe that would finally wash right up the steps of Admiralty House with a mighty big splish-splash. The ruffled wigs and stormy waves of which 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 he 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 downing countless tankards of extra strong 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. Besides that, you can’t libel the dead, according to a disbarred solicitor I had a natter with in the public bar of The Matelot’s Tackle while doing a bit of researching. Cost me five pints of Badley’s Old Swill and a couple of chasers to find that out.

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

9 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

    Like

  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 :) !

    Like

    • 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: http://EzineArticles.com/165296 http://ezinearticles.com/?Nelsons-Last-Words:-Kiss-Me,-Hardy-or-Kismet,-Hardy?&id=165296

      Like

    • John (@FlagEcho)
      August 10, 2015

      He didn’t die on the decks, nor did he say “Kiss me hardy”, all fabricated. Nelson died in a cot below decks where the wounded were cared for. Hardy was not present when he died but they both exchanged words concerning Lady Hamilton’s inheritance and care, He has been gone for 200 years, so any insulting conjecture by you to hold up your bent personal habits are a disgrace, and one that can not be defended by those aggrieved. It is an indisputable fact that many Generals and Admirals have never admitted to being gay, are you serious!?…. They haven’t because its an indisputable fact that not many are gay, you moron. You article is rubbish, I am not one of your sycophants who drool over your tiresome works that besmirch great men who undertake great deeds. Gutless comes to mind when I read trash like this. I can’t believe I just wasted 10 minutes reading this vomit and then actually typing a reply. There is an indisputable fact for you Bryan, you write rubbish…

      Like

      • Bryan Hemming
        August 11, 2015

        I must admit I had a real good chuckle at your comment. So did all my mates, and their mates. You should write stuff like that for a living. The historical mistakes are there to guide readers towards the fact it’s a spoof piece. In other words: they are intentional.

        If your comment is actually intended to be taken seriously, you won’t be surprised if other people question who the real moron is, while they split their sides. You live in Australia and you’ve never hear of taking the urine? Or tongue in cheek? Let’s just hope your mates on Twitter don’t cop your comment, for your sake. Or better still, let’s hope they do.

        Anyway, thanks for that; you’ve opened the gates for me to reach a far wider audience. I really mean it, thanks a bunch!

        Like

  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.

    Like

    • 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.

      Like

  4. David Munro
    April 2, 2015

    You wrote – “Though there might’ve been unfounded rumours floating about of romantic flings with Nell Gwynn, Lady Hamilton, and Ann Hathaway,”
    Not very historically accurate Mr.Mosely
    .Nelll Gwynn lived in the 17th century, Anne Hathaway in the 16th and Nelson predominantly in the 18th. He must have been a time-traveller as well as a very active Admiral in the Royal Navy to conduct these amourous affairs!
    Plus,it seems he was very much in love with Lady Hamilton with whomhe had a long passionate relationship and who gave birth to two of his children.

    May I respectfully suggest that you need to do more thorough research before making such spurious claims about people’s sexuality…..

    Like

    • Bryan Hemming
      April 2, 2015

      Sorry, David, the article is a spoof meant to mimic articles published by the gutter press, which level unfounded accusations against people, who aren’t in a position to answer back, as their very denial is often used as a tool to imply the very thing the target is denying. They are put in a no-win situation whether they choose to deny or choose not to deny. I used Nelson because he is no longer with us to take offence.

      You must’ve have seen headlines that proclaim thing like ROCK STAR JOHN SMITH DENIES HE KILLED WIFE. Up until you read the headline you had never even suspected John Smith had killed his wife, but the seed is now laid that he might have, otherwise, why would he feel the need to say he didn’t? On the other hand, if he doesn’t deny he killed his wife to a reporter, then he must’ve have done it.

      There are no real verifiable ‘facts’ through the whole piece. I purposely confuse Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy with the famous author Thomas Hardy, who penned the novels Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd among others. Coincidentally, both were born in Dorset. Though I might be wrong, I very much doubt there were public toilets in Morocco in 1805, the year of the Battle of Trafalgar. These were meant to be little clues, as was the one you correctly pointed out. The ridiculous suggestion Nelson had “romantic flings with Nell Gwynn, Lady Hamilton, and Ann Hathaway” is simply that.

      I would hate you to think the article as homophobic, or anything like that, as quite the opposite was intended. I was trying to make fun of the people, who make stupid and hurtful accusations against others, whether gay or not.

      I hope I haven’t caused any offence, by the article, or in this explanation, and that you able now see the purpose and the joke.

      Like

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This entry was posted on September 14, 2013 by in Articles, Humour and tagged , .

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