One of the fun things about writing historical adventures is the opportunity it presents to have real historical figures interact with your fictional characters. In “The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy” I’ve included such notables as Talleyrand (Napoleon’s duplicitous but oh-so-effective Foreign Minister), Talleyrand’s sexually-liberated wife, Catherine (what a find she was!), William Pitt (the ex-Prime Minister and Darcy’s arch-enemy), William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (given the name ‘Fitzwilliam’ I couldn’t resist making him a relative of Darcy and, anyway, his Irish connections were very useful with regard to my plotting) and Horatio Nelson.
Nelson only makes a brief appearance (basically to explain how concerned everyone was in 1802 that Napoleon was set to invade England) but brief though it is I had to make sure I drew him correctly. In popular myth, Nelson is always associated with an eyepatch (this largely thanks to Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Nelson in 1941’s “That Hamilton Woman”) but it seems that though he lost the sight of his right eye from injuries sustained during the assault on Calvi in 1794 the eyeball was undamaged. Hence no eyepatch: (http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/mar/07/arts.artsnews).
But it wasn’t only Nelson’s appearance about which I had to be careful. The books I’ve read (“Horatio Nelson” by Tom Pocock is a stand-out) don’t, in my modest opinion, make enough of the personal impact the adulation heaped on Nelson by an adoring public after his victories at the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Copenhagen (this is pre-Trafalgar, remember) had on the man. I think it went to his head a little. This, combined with him having quite an eye (sorry!) for the ladies would have made him something of a handful in mixed company (especially, as in my book, when Emma Hamilton wasn’t around).
Having said this I think the headline in The Metro of the 19th October – ‘Love-rat Nelson Banned Wife to Be with Mistress’ – a trifle excessive. Nelson’s marital arrangements and infidelities were pretty much par for the course in mid-Georgian England so the opprobrium he suffered at the hands of the beau monde (he was ‘cut’ by a sizeable number of them) was, I think, a consequence of their being envious about his popularity with the mob.
Still I have the feeling that when Nelson was confronted by a woman as attractive as Elizabeth Darcy, the result would be inevitable. This is the scene when Elizabeth and Nelson are using a telescope to study the invasion preparations the French are making in Boulogne harbor:
Nelson turned the telescope back over to Elizabeth but if anything stood even closer, his thigh now pressed hard against hers and a steadying hand placed – rather unnecessarily – on her back. Elizabeth found it difficult to concentrate on the invasion preparations being made in Boulogne when invasions of a more personal nature were being initiated in Dover.
‘Your husband’s intelligence tells us that the intention of the French is to excavate Boulogne’s tidal basin,’ Elizabeth heard Nelson saying. ‘They are doing this to increase the capacity in the port such that twelve hundred of Boney’s invasion barges can find a safe berth there.’
‘Twelve hundred … so many.’ Elizabeth had to suppress a squeak as Nelson’s hand inched lower. She was presented with something of a conundrum. Any other man paying her such attention would be sent packing with a flea in his ear but this was no ordinary man. This was Nelson, hero of the hour.
‘Indeed, which is why Boney needs three days to execute his invasion,’ Nelson went on, his hand now only inches away from beginning its exploration of Elizabeth’s derrière. Elizabeth wondered what would have been her fate if Nelson had two hands with which to conduct his survey of her nether regions. ‘Only two hundred vessels can clear the harbor in a single tide therefore it will need six tides to get the whole fleet out to sea and en route for England. He will also need the most clement weather which is why I am convinced he will come at us in the summer.’
‘Yes,’ answered Elizabeth. ‘I am advised that coming at anything in the winter invariably leads to disaster.’
Nelson didn’t appear to understand the message Elizabeth was trying to send. ‘A summer onslaught is also necessary because the barges, brigs, pinnaces and gunboats the Frogs will be using to transport their army must be keel-less to allow them to make land on our beaches. This, in turn, will result in them having lubberly handling, none capable of sailing close-hauled. They must run before the wind and such a wind is only certain in July and August.’
Elizabeth stood away from the telescope. ‘But the Royal Navy …?’
‘If at hand, then we will most assuredly board them and blast them, you may have no fear of that, Mrs Darcy.’
‘Ah yes. I am told that officers in the Royal Navy are very skilled at boarding.’
Nelson gave a leering smile. ‘That we are, Mrs Darcy, but as with all talents some captains are more skilled than others, especially when the vessel they are intent on taking is a handsome craft, well-rigged and possessed of sleek lines.’
‘Then it is a pity, Sir, that I will not have an opportunity of seeing you in action. This is one vessel which refuses to be boarded by anyone other than her own captain.’